Muzium Alam is an interactive, online, experimental museum about nature in a coastal region in the west of Sarawak.
Initially, Ayesha Keshani had planned to create a cluster of small "natural history museums” in Sarawak, however, the pandemic forced the project to be restructured for accessibility online.
The UK-based artist was personally interested in Malaysia and chose to focus the project on a coastal area in the west of Sarawak, in collaboration with local eco-tourism guides and voice artists.
Through artist films, WhatsApp exchanges, audio narratives and text, the project pieces together the relationships between humans and other-than-humans, lands and waters in this corner of Borneo. As a result, Muzium Alam is an homage to Sarawak’s natural world.
“In Malay, alam means nature, realm or world. Natural history museum is ‘muzium alam semulajadi’, but alam implies a plurality, and holds a seed of potential for more than (the literal meaning of the word). Animals like turtles and amphibians for example, are ‘haiwan dua alam’ – animals of two worlds, water and land. A turtle’s alam is different to the alam of the antu laut (sea spirits), and also different to our human alam above the water. Alam means nature, but it is expansive, and offers a way to think about multiple natures and the way they relate to one another.”
Muzium Alam is part of a wider project by Ayesha, Other Museums, which explores the potential for museums and nature to take on other forms.
Through audio and visual elements, the project explores the multiple natures that make up this coastal area.
Ayesha describes the museum as a constant work in progress, in which members of the audience can take their time to learn and understand more about the many layers in this area of Sarawak, criss-crossing biology, geology, ecology, personal stories, and glimpses of
From the home page, audience members can click on any image to explore different parts of the website, which is divided into 4 main sections and several smaller interludes. The main sections are 1000 Logs, Rumah Ikan, Nakoda Hitam and Alam & Antu.
“Museums are places that have come to define a single tradition of nature - mononaturalism - through familiar forms of classification and display. They insist on full transparency and clear meaning, of show-and-tell and precise understanding,” Ayesha says.
“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.”
Through Muzium Alam, Ayesha aims to develop cosmopolitical and experimental museum practices in relation to nature in Southeast Asia.
The project also experimented with online exhibition methodologies and modes of storytelling that saw Ayesha working closely with locals collaborators in Sarawak.
In showcasing localised narratives, Muzium Alam empowers the voices of Sarawak's communities and sheds light on the importance of recognising the impact of climate change and extraction of natural resource on their ways of life.
As part of a country with Muslim-majority nation, the belief in spirit realms is sometimes a taboo topic. Muzium Alam does not diminish these beliefs and gives it due significance in documenting Sarawak’s unique and dynamic landscapes and seascapes.
Explore Muzium Alam at https://muziumalam.org/
Ayesha Keshani is an artist, museum worker and PhD candidate in Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths, University of London. Her work explores natural histories and futures at the Sarawak Museum, and the many frictions between colonialism, nature and cosmos. She works through audio, video, text, installation to test more expansive concepts of museums in response to ecological crisis.
Discover more Connections Through Culture collaborations here.
Check out opportunities from British Council here.