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Citizen Science Zurich

The "Borys Malkin Collection" in the view of Wounaan in Colombia


The research project is one of five workspace projects at the Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich, each of which will result in a participatory exhibition. The specific project is about Wounaan objects from Colombia, including photographs and short films, which go back to the Polish professional collector Borys Malkin (1917–2009). From 1968 to 1972, Malkin visited several Wounaan villages in Colombia and acquired numerous "complete object sets" which he sold to many European and North American museums. This type of collecting and selling practice was a business model that provided Malkin with his livelihood from 1957 to 1994.

About the project

The workspace project will not be designed as a readymade exhibition, but rather as a participatory research process open to interpretation. The focus is on five core questions for the collection regarding context, origin, contemporaneity, skill, and reconnection, which arise from anthropological research as well as from the analysis of current museum debates. They are fundamental to understanding material culture and practical knowledge of originator societies and to then engage in a dialogue about collections.

Involvement of citizen scientists

We pursue the goal of opening up the anthropological research process in the museum and inviting representatives of the originator societies, experts, artisans, and scholars to participate in this process. In this process, the participation of Wounaan, who today live mainly in Colombia (Rio San Juan) and also in Panama (Comarca Emberá-Wounaan), and getting to know their understanding of the collection at our museum and their ideas of how to deal with it, is of central importance.

Weiterführende Informationen


Maike Powroznik, Dr.
Ethnographic Museum
University of Zurich

Ethnographic Museum, University of Zurich

Interview with Maike Powroznik about the project

More about Interview with Maike Powroznik about the project

With five workshop projects, the Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich is becoming an open knowledge workshop. One of these is the Seed Grant project "The 'Borys Malkin Collection' in the view of Wounaan in Colombia". We spoke to project manager Maike Powroznik about it.