Muzium Alam is a constellation of stories about natures - plural - at the western tip of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. The project grew out of whatsapp messages, videos and voice notes, exchanged across the span of 2020-2021 pandemic - a strange replacement for what had begun as an in-situ project. Instead, this distance reframed questions of access, proximity and opacity, of what museums do and what alternatives might be possible.
In Malay, alam means nature, realm, world. Natural history museum is muzium alam semulajadi. But alam implies a plurality, holds a seed of potential for more-than. Turtles, for example, can be understood as haiwan dua alam, animals of two worlds, water and land. The antu laut (sea spirits) that sometimes accompany turtles when they arrive on the beaches to lay eggs are in a different alam - separate but overlapping, both with ours and with turtles. Sometimes the boundaries of these alam (and antu) are clear - the triangular figure on the homepage is Pak Uning Laut’s drawing of an antu laut - but sometimes alam are better left opaque and imprecise. Muzium Alam follows these multiple natures, tracing imprecise ecologies that span human and other-than-human worlds.
What would a museum of multiple alam, rather than a single nature, look like? Museums are places that have come to define a single tradition of nature - mononaturalism - through well-worn tools of classification and display. They insist on full transparency and clear meaning, of show-and-tell and precise understanding. In this way, Muzium Alam is not a museum, but not not a museum. Instead, it gathers fragments and anecdotes, half-memories and misunderstandings, liveliness and histories which trouble stable identification.
The project owes everything to its participants (human and otherwise). In particular, Pak Uning Laut and Alvin Danker, whose knowledge, patience, willingness to enter into lengthy dialogues at a distance, criticise, question, and share insights are the backbone of this project.
The project is continually evolving - the clusters here are presented as work-in-progress, and will shift, disappear, deform and reform across time.
Muzium Alam was made possible with support from the British Council’s Connections Through Culture program (2020) and the Centre for Humanities and Arts of Southeast England (CHASE)
Photos, drawings and videos:
Pak Uning Laut, Ayesha Keshani
Foo May Lyn, Neyna Radzuan,
Alvin Danker, Ayesha Keshani
Goh Choon Ean from LUMA (Penang)
Recorded in and around Sarawak, 2019 by Ayesha Keshani
Fikri Fadzil, Ayesha Keshani
Pak Uning Laut, Alvin Danker, Florence Lambert, Erica Choong, Noboru and Mayumi Ishikawa, Balang Tanid, Louise Macul, Azzief Khaliq, Pujita Guha, Tom Harrisson in spirit