Throughout their lifetime, people retain memories of events and individuals of importance to them. Our exhibition starts with deeply personal memories, captured either in lines of poetry, in photo albums, or in certificates of baptism. A wall-filling display contains souvenirs illustrating at the same time that memories are often associated with objects – here testified by over 400 exhibits from the museum’s collection that speak to personal events such as births, marriages, and deaths. These objects also serve as reminders of social events, wars, disasters, borders being opened, or of days marking independence.
The exhibition illustrates how events like these are remembered, kept secret, or even forgotten through a variety of ways and means; similarities are revealed, too. Memory aids, for instance, are commonplace around the world. Peru’s Incas tied knots in cords with which they recorded dates and stories. Here in Switzerland, marks were made on tally sticks to regulate access to the common irrigation system.
For thousands of years, great epics and sacred writings have ensured that people’s experiences and history would be remembered. Written by scholars, the Bible, Torah, Koran, Ethiopian healing scrolls, or the bark books of Batak ritual specialists in Indonesia represent impressive examples. In the 1980s, civil-society organizations, artists, and politicians used fabrics, paintings, and posters to record events such as decolonization, the end of apartheid in South Africa, or the grievances, violence, and suppression associated with Latin American dictatorships.
The exhibition concludes with examples of remembrance of the dead. In Europe, hair craft, stone monuments, and grave crosses commemorate the dead. In Mexico, those who have died are remembered in Day of the Dead celebrations in which, for instance, dancing skeletons are displayed on home altars. In Peru, on the other hand, the indigenous Machiguenga people make wooden guardian figures to protect them against the spirits of the dead.