The Permanent Collection
Global Milan. The world seen from here
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Global Milan. The World Seen from Here
The Mudec – Museum of Cultures of Milan, which came about to host and present the civic ethnographic collections to the public, opened its doors in 2015. After five years, the need has emerged to conduct a reflection on the role and responsibilities of ethnographic museums in the contemporary debate.
The reorganization of the permanent exhibition aims to analyse the effects – for Milan and as seen from Milan – of the advent of an interconnected world, starting from the beginning of the modern age.
“Global Milan. The World Seen from Here” proposes a story in which the individual histories are interwoven with major global historical processes.
Visitors are accompanied in this itinerary through a selection of objects, many of which recently restored, coming from the MUDEC’s collections and from other institutions, so they can familiarise themselves with such complex concepts as globalisation, imperialism and mercantilism.
Furthermore, thanks to the collaboration of academics, experts, activists, cultural mediators, artists and bloggers and through workshops with people with pertinent transnational biographies, particularly critical issues have been tackled.
Among them, the historical dynamics that have had repercussions on the exploitation of the environment and of workers, the implications of the emergency of capitalism and the most well known themes concerning the violence of the colonial age and the trials and tribulations – but also the normal aspects – of contemporary lives.
The exhibition opens with Milan’s entry onto the international chessboard through its annexation, in the 16th century, by the leading power of the time: the Spanish Empire. Thanks to the new possibilities of trade and exchange, non-European objects that had arrived in the city came to form part of the its collections, gathered using a significantly encyclopaedic approach; we are referring to the collections of Visconti Borromeo, Ardemanio, Landi, Monti and of Manfredo Settala, whose works have been loaned to the Mudec by the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana. In a special section of the hall, the surviving works of the Settala collection are displayed together with reproductions of watercolours coming from five albums of sketches conserved at the Ambrosiana Library in Milan and the Estense University Library in Modena.
Following the discovery of the rich Bolivian mines of Potosì in 1545, large quantities of silver arrived in Milan. They were worked and redistributed as weapons, luxury products and coins, such as the first international coin – the so-called real de a ocho – 70 specimens of which are displayed coming from the Numismatic and Medal Collection of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan. The impact of American silver, extracted and worked with proto-industrial criteria, was to have striking effects on the world economy and at the same time devastating ones for the American indigenous populations and for the Africans slaves who were exploited in the work of refining the metal.
Accompanying visitors into the second hall is a section regarding the trade routes of tea, coffee and chocolate, which had now entered Milanese aristocratic living rooms, as is shown by the large painting Luncheon of the Lucini Passalacqua Family, loaned by the Pinacoteca of the Castello Sforzesco.
Bottle with stirrup handle with a scene of warriors in the act of dancing - Moche culture, North coast of Peru - VI-VII cent. - Molded terracotta and painting - Balzarotti Collection - Mudec, Museo delle Culture, Milan
Between the second half of the 15th century and the end of the 18th, Asia became the protagonist of the worldwide trading of manufactured products thanks to the high degree of expertise at a qualitative and quantitative level. During this first age of globalisation, the market’s demand for manufactured products from the Chinese Empire began to grow exponentially, leading in the 17th century to a series of contaminations and hybridisations that were so profound that it would later prove difficult to differentiate between productions from the East and the West.
In the second hall, the pieces on display vary from the original objects imported from China present among the furnishings of the leading Milanese aristocratic families to the excellent Italian productions made to imitate them, which in turn were exported outside of local confines.
To demonstrate that the passion for the Orient also affected the Milan of the 18th century, a splendid Italian manufactured sedan with chinoiserie decorations is exhibited, on loan from the Museum of Furniture and Wooden Sculptures of the Castello Sforzesco and restored for display.
In a special section, visitors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of a Milanese 18th-19th-century living room, reconstructed according to the Chinese inspired taste of the period.
A separate subject is textile production, in which raw materials, fashions, motifs and tastes imported from India, China and Japan are interwoven, and which involved Milan among the first cities in Italy. The world of textiles is the subject of a series of targeted analyses of the various products in circulation, such as a core selection of cashmere shawls, which were highly fashionable in the early 19th century.
Through a corridor joining the second and third halls, visitors are accompanied from the luxurious world of the chinoiserie living rooms of the Milanese nobility, through the phases of imperialism and the slave trade, to the traumatic events of colonialism in Africa (19th-20th centuries). The latter are the topic tackled in the third hall, through a display of objects belonging to the Mudec’s historical collections, with new acquisitions and loans coming from important private collections and from those of national institutes.
Around the end of the 19th century, Italian interests in the African continent were predominantly commercial and tended towards the peaceful search for new markets. An example in this regard is the experience of Giuseppe Vigoni, future Mayor of Milan, who travelled in Abyssinia from 1879 onwards accompanying the Society of Commercial Exploration in Africa with its headquarters in Milan.
However, European colonial aspirations in Africa led to the partition of the territories with the Conference of Berlin (1884-1885), launching a phase of violent occupation of the African hinterland.
The following section draws a picture of European colonialism and the forms of African resistance. The in-depth analyses proposed on the war and the colonial armies, on religion and on practices involving the body reveal, on one hand, the violent character of colonial domination, on the other the complexity of the cultural interactions under way. The objects selected – of both African and European production – illustrate to visitors a history made of clashes and encounters, of appropriations and interpenetrations that would lead to the creation of an original, innovative material culture.
In this panorama, the Italian interests in the continent also changed in the direction of forms of military occupation. A multimedia installation illustrates to visitors the stages through which the weak Kingdom of Italy occupied part of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, the prelude to colonialism in a Fascist mould focusing on the definitive conquest of Libya and Eritrea.
In the following section advertising posters, scientific or entertainment magazines, documents and everyday objects illustrate the comprehensive propaganda actions set under way in the mother country and highlight the problematic relationship with the “colonised”, as well as the contradictory and stereotyped representation of the “other”.
Mask depicting a Sikh - Makonde population, Tanzania - First half of the 20th century. - Carved and painted wood - Mudec Museo delle Culture, Milan
The gallery between hall 4 and hall 5 presents an analysis of the migratory flows that have involved Milan from the second half of the 20th century, passing from the Italian economic boom of the 1950s and ’60s to the transformation of Milan into the city of services in the following decade. A video installation with interviews – recorded as part of the Milano Città Mondo project – with interlocutors belonging to the Lombard communities originating from the various diasporas, allows a more in-depth and empathic understanding of the migrant’s perspective, while a famous photographic image by Uliano Lucas opens the gaze onto the domestic Italian migration towards Milan. Works by the two artists, Alan Maglio and Cristina Donati Mayer, offer a further reflection on the development of the Milanese migrant community and on the contemporary criticism of colonialism, embodied by Milan’s Indro Montanelli.
Alan Maglio - African portraits - 2004 - © Alan Maglio
The last hall of the itinerary focuses on contemporary global Milan: a space devoted to the creativity of the generations of Afro-descendents and their identity-related perspective in the current context of the city. The section has been designed through a complex participatory process consisting of workshops and discussions with artists, video-makers, writers and influencers, who have provided nuanced representations of their work and the reality that surrounds them through their personal contributions and expressions of various kinds.
Christopher Veggetti Kanku, Today for Tomorrow, 2020, Acrylic on canvas - © Christopher Veggetti Kanku