Curated by Valeria D’Ambrosio

With Gabriela Acha, Gian Piero Frassinelli, Marcela Moraga

From October, 23rd to November 20th, 2020 – Villa Romana (Via senese, 68 – Florence

What meaning does an anthropological museum hold for contemporary society? What does it mean to collect and exhibit ethnographic artefacts today? How does one deal with the challenges related to decolonization, the restitution of objects to their rightful owners, or the revitalisation of a structure whose static nature struggles to keep pace with the dynamism of human culture? Museums, always perceived as inviolable institutions of Western culture, continue to be the place that best represents a hegemonic vision which often corresponds to the expression of a sense of superiority over other cultures. Starting from a critical analysis of these observations, MAI. Museo Antropologico Immaginario (Imaginary Anthropological Museum) intends to activate an intercultural collaboration strategy to rethink the concept of the anthropological museum by developing new participatory methodologies.

MAI is a multidisciplinary space which interacts with contemporary art, architecture and anthropology – disciplines always understood as either intrinsically opposed or essentially inextricable, inasmuch as they are forms of representation that take human experience as a starting point. Drawing inspiration from the first trip to Argentina made by Paolo Mantegazza, founder of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology in Florence in 1869, MAI proposes a focus on the peoples and variegated cultures of Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia. Within it, the visionary works by Superstudio architect Gian Piero Frassinelli, from his first unpublished pieces of the 1960s to the more recent science fiction evolutions, will dialogue with the multimedia and performance art aiming for a cultural re-appropriation with a feminist slant by Argentinian artist Gabriela Acha, and the audio-visual narratives oscillating between reality, legend and fiction by Chilean artist Marcela Moraga.

In this fantasy museum liberated from institutional limits, creativity becomes a language designed to force static disciplinary notions through the dialogue with the cultures represented by the exhibited objects, to explore the stories contained in them, and to see native peoples under a new light. It is an attempt to offer a different interpretation for a deeper comprehension of the world, starting from our relationship with others. In actual fact, MAI is not a mere repository of knowledge and mute objects but a place to research on human relationships, a space for contact between people, called to discover and re-imagine its collections in order to provide them with meanings that are open and ready to tackle the present-day challenges. The practices of architecture and art, released from the objectifying distance of the scientific discipline, come to be understood as generators of social space and interactions with the Other, so that new canons of intellectual exploration can be developed and new communities and ideas created.

MAI will transform the concept of the museum from a representational space into a social process, in order to remind us that it is, first and foremost, a productive place that not only preserves and describes the existing reality, but also generates new environments in which to think, act and interact.

The Film Review

The Festival dei Popoli Archives offers a series of documentary screenings related to the themes of MAI. Museo Antropologico Immaginario. The film review is an integral part of the project, developing ideas for reflections inspired by the works and objects on display. Six international titles explore the need to rethink the concept of the Anthropological Museum. The intention is to bring closer cultures and populations who, every day, try to keep ancient traditions living within the demands of contemporary life.


First date: Friday October 30th, 2020 – Villa Romana, 6.00 pm

Palimpsest of the Africa Museum, by Matthias De Groof (Belgium, 2019, 69’ – o.v French and Dutch – English subtitles)

The Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, was established by King Leopold II at the World Fair in 1897. From 2013, the museum was closed to the public for a long restoration work. Alongside the renovation project, some international experts started a reflection on a new concept of Ethnographic Museum, freeing itself from the colonialist approach of its founders.



Second date: Friday November 6th, 2020 – Villa Romana, 6.00 pm

Le terrain du peuple, by Anja Göbel (Germany, 2015, 34’ – o.v. French and local languages – English subtitles)

The National Museum of Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso, commissioned by Thomas Sankara to promote the indigenous cultures of his country, which has become independent, has become a point of convergence (and friction) of problems caused by an overly authoritarian museum concept. The film proposes the example of a national anthropological museum that causes sorrow and arouses opposition from local cultures which the museum itself intended to celebrate. 

Abigail, by Valentina Homen and Isabel Penoni (Brasil, 2016, 17’ – o.v. Portuguese  – English subtitles)

From 1940 to 1950, Abigail Lopes took part in the expeditions of Francisco Meireles, known in Brazil for seeking a peaceful encounter with the indigenous peoples who lived in isolation. Abigail came into contact with the Xavantes population of Serra do Roncador (in the state of Mato Grosso), and spent eight years of her life with them. The film recalls the meeting between the two young directors and the now elderly woman in her house full of memories and suggestions belonging to a past full of encounters and contaminations.

Extremos – Viaje a Karukinka (Extremes – Expedition to Karukinka), by Federico Molentino and Juan Manuel Ferraro (Argentina, 2015, 26’ – no dialogues)

We are in Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago at the southern end of the South American continent, destination of many tourist cruises every year. Images of a remote past, showing representatives of the original populations dressed and hairstyled according to tradition, are superimposed on the present. The evocative juxtaposition illustrates a landscape violently disfigured by industrial exploitation which is populated, for a few moments, with ghostly presences.



Third date: Friday November 13th, 2020 – Villa Romana, 6.00 pm

El país del diablo (Land of the Devil), by Andrés Di Tella (Argentina, 2008, 72’ –  o.v. Spanish – English subtitles)

Andrés Di Tella, one of the greatest contemporary Argentinean filmmakers, travels in the footsteps of Estanislao Zeballos, a 19th century writer and anthropologist who, affiliated with the Argentinean army in the bloody campaign of colonisation of the south of the country (named: the “conquista del desierto”) was among the first to document the traditions and culture of the Mapuche people at the very moment when the troops commanded by Julio Argentino Roca were systematically exterminating them. Structured as an open journey full of surprises, the film reveals the particular condition of a national history, also made up of hidden pages and ghosts that must be faced.



Fourth date: Friday November 20th, 2020 – Villa Romana, 6.00 pm

El etnógrafo (The Ethnographer), by Ulises Rosell (Argentina, 2012, 85’ – o.v. Spanish, English, local languages – English subtitles)

Thirty years ago, John Palmer left Oxford University to study the Wichí, a nomadic population living in some green areas of Argentina and Bolivia. During his stays within the community, John underwent a slow but inexorable transformation: he put aside his studies and joined the community, whose language, customs and habits he learned. A curious example of “reverse colonisation”, John offers his contribution to the community and does his best to make himself useful.




All screenings are free admission with compulsory booking by registering for individual events, via the links above.

Maximum capacity with safety distance and obligation to wear the mask: 20 people.



MAI is a project of Villa Romana, curated by Valeria D’Ambrosio, realized with the contribution of Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze with the Patronage of the Municipality of Florence and the Tuscan Region. The SAGAS UniFi Department is the scientific partner of the project.

The film review, curated by Alberto Lastrucci and Daniela Colamartini of the Festival dei Popoli Archives, is part of the project for the preservation and enhancement of the archives, which involves the Tuscan Region nd the Tuscan Archival and Bibliographic Superintendence.

The Festival dei Popoli thanks the directors and producers of the films presented, in particular: Matthias De Groof, Federico Molentino, Juan Manuel Ferrero.