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Ethnographic Museum

Mask Dances? 5 Questions on Ritual Costumes from Sri Lanka

14 July 2023 to 15 September 2024

Ambalangoda region, 1984 to 2006: For twenty years, the German ethnologists Wolfgang Mey and Anna Wischkowski-Mey researched Sinhalese healing rituals and kolam dances on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. In close collaboration with ritual specialists such as Bandu Wijesooriya and Karolis Gurunnanse, a well-documented collection of masks and costumes, ritual objects and tools, as well as objects decorated with mask images was assembled.

City of Zurich, 1885 to 1947: Over a period of sixty years, various organisers presented exotic Sri Lankan culture to the city's public as part of the Zurich "Völkerschauen", "ethnographic shows". At least six times, "natives from Ceylon" performed, among other things, "devil dances". Who were these people?

This workshop exhibition opens up a reflection on encounters between people. What opportunities emerge for our togetherness today and in the future if we understand the people presented as "natives" back then as contemporaries today? How do we perceive each other when we communicate about knowledge? And how can an exhibition contribute to giving space for multi-vocality?

Ritual furnishings, display items, museum objects?
Ritual equipment, display items, museum objects? Mosaic pieces of Sri Lankan ritual culture from the collection of Wolfgang Mey and Anna Wischkowski-Mey in the UZH Ethnographic Museum. Photo: Kathrin Leuenberger, 2023.


Workspace Series – 5 Questions on the Collections

What kind of museum does the future need? We turn to the collections and their creators with long-lasting and new questions, for example: "How and why did the objects come into our museum?" We think of the museum as an open workspace, a space for collaborative exploration and research. Along with an exhibition series, we offer insights into our work. The exhibition “Mask Dances?” followed "Honeymoon?", "Business Idea?" and "Looted Goods?" as the fourth opening in this series. In November 2023 the final workspace exhibition "Workpieces?" has completed the series.

Weiterführende Informationen


Dr. Martina Wernsdörfer, curator and the Ethnographic Museums' vice director