Global Guides at Penn Museum

“Refugees Connect Their Personal Stories with a Museum’s Ancient Artifacts”

“The Global Guides program at the Penn Museum hires recent refugees from the Middle East to give personalized tours. The leader of my tour was Moumena Saradar, a refugee from Syria who has lived in Philadelphia for two years.”

By Olivia Jia for Hyperallergic, 2/20/2019

Read the above article to see how one museum is connecting with refugees from the Middle East by hiring them to teach visitors about their culture, both ancient and contemporary.

Global Guides tour at Penn Museum, Moumena Saradar showcases similarities between her grandfather’s family business and the artifacts from Tepe Gawra (all photos by Olivia Jia for Hyperallergic)

12 thoughts on “Global Guides at Penn Museum

  1. Mary Wells

    Over my years of schooling it has been made clear to me that I am a person that needs to know the background of something as well as find ways in my head to make connections before I will really understand it through and through. With that being said I love what Penn Museum is doing. It is easy to walk through a museum and look at works of art or ancient artifacts just to say that you’ve done it. By being able to build a history and make real life connections to different pieces is truly priceless. You are no only building the history of such objects, but you are always giving people a voice in an all new light. You are giving refugees a safe way to share all that they have been through and what they have seen. The article says they use this method to “bridge cultural gaps”, and that is through and through a fact! From a personal view I wish more museums would find a way to incorporate such actions into other museums.

  2. Sarah Khalil

    Penn Museums had developed a brilliant idea of hiring new refugees to give personalized tours. I think it is very important for all museums to consider the concept of hiring people who can personally relate to a specific artifact that is displayed in the museum, because these people are capable of reflecting their experience and knowledge to visitors and providing their personal stories related to the objects. By hiring an experienced person who truly relates to the museum’s theme, it can engage the visitors to relate with the employee’s personal story that can demonstrate better understanding of the object. This new concept can be very beneficial to give an opportunity for refugees to get the chance of expressing their thoughts and stories, as well to increase the awareness of new cultures in the future.
    The displayed artifact Tepe Gawra, it is a type of simply made jewelry. These are my favorite type of jewelry that I slightly relate to, because they are popular in Middle Eastern countries and some countries in East Africa as well. I remember when I visited Egypt in summer 2016, I was walking in the city and I happened to pass by a table of colorful bracelets and necklaces that looked very similar to the one that is shown in the figure, and I had to buy one bracelet to keep it as a memory.

  3. Clare Driscoll

    Reading this article has opened my eyes to the true impact that foreign art and ancient art exhibits have on people. The program of the Global Guides is not just an interactive learning experience, it incorporates personal experience and profound meaning to the art. Reading about Saradar’s journey from Syria to Philadelphia as a refugee with her family, the trials she went through, and how she shares her story with others through art is a testament to her deep connection with her roots. The Global Guides Program also offers refugees job opportunities, whereas in most situations such as a refugee one, creating a stable life for oneself, let alone finding a stable job is another roadblock one must face. Jobs such as these allow refugees to be integrated into American life and culture without straying from their foundation and where they came from. The art in this situation acts as a tie from the past into the modern world, tieing in personal history with the history of a specific country or culture. This exhibit and program are powerful examples of the beauty of global culture and how it can be relevant anywhere and to anyone.

  4. Mark Madison

    I enjoyed reading this article, I noticed how diversity plays a role in exposing gender and women in our community. Penn Museum displays a great idea in promoting inclusiveness which will attract many people towards their museum. Penn museums’ willingness and courage to give refugees opportunities to express themselves is what we need more of in this modern world. Browsing through the architecture of this article drew some attention and comparisons of what we are learning about the different textures of Islamic art. I gained more insight more about the Islamic culture and reading about the story of Moumena Saradar. This Global Guides program is an excellent resource for our community and teaches our community to be open-minded and non-judgmental. I agree with this article that more institutions and organizations should render this particular strategy Penn Museum uses in promoting diversity.

  5. Meredith Pons

    The U Penn museum came up with an awesome idea to hire refugees to give tours of exhibits with the art from their countries. It really gives people a better understanding of the art because the refugees know the culture better than anyone. They are able to relate themselves to the art and tell personal stories to show how the art shows their culture. By hiring a native born person who understands the museum’s theme, they can engage the visitors by demonstrating a better understanding of each piece of art. I think that all museums should do this. It gives refugees a job that they are better at than someone who isn’t from their country of origin.

  6. Caroline Pagano

    After reading this article, I realized how important exhibits of foreign art and ancient art have had an impact on many people. The Global Guides program causes attention to recent refuges from the Middle East to connect their personal stories related to their ancient artifacts. Saradar’s journey from Syria to Philadelphia is important to the Penn Museum because it has become a home for her. She feels safe at the Museum and has time to ponder over her feelings about her cultural heritage and the hardhsips she faced. Giving refugees the opportunity to give tours relating to the significance of art from their countries, while receiving pay, allows the viewers to have a deeper understanding of the culture of each exhibit.

  7. Kym Laver

    This art exhibit makes the best of a bad situation in how it displays the art of a culture that is currently facing warfare, destruction, and poverty, and is therefore unable to aptly display its own art. Not only has the art been acquired ‘ethically’ (relative to industry standards), but it also is presented by those who can actually claim it as part of their culture. This is important because even though it cannot be admired in its country of origin, it can at least be cherished by those who were forced out of their country by war and in this way they can maintain part of their heritage. Additionally, it provides work for these people who have been alienated by their own country and need to create a new life in this one. Overall, this museum provides a home away from home for a culture currently unable to thrive in its own home.

  8. Ada Laurer

    The Penn Museum had a brilliant idea that both benefits refugees and people visiting the museum. By employing refugees to teach about their own culture and artifacts, people can learn new things that can not be taught simply by reading a textbook or through an archaeologists discoveries. When someone teaches about something they are passionate and very knowledgeable on, it helps get others excited about learning as well. The decision to employ refugees gives them the chance to bring awareness about a variety of cultures.

  9. Keelin Murphy

    The Penn Museum had a smart idea to employ refugees as it not only benefits the refugees as they are getting a job but helped the people visiting the museum as the workers there explaining the pieces and artefacts are sharing their own cultures. This causes visitors to become more excited or interested in something as the person explaining it would be passionate and knowledgeable about these pieces. By employing refugees Penn Museum is allowing these tour guides to share their culture with people who wish to learn about it.

  10. Aria Janello

    This idea that the University of Pennsylvania to have refugees work within exhibits of their cultures is going one step further to enhance the art. There is only so much you can learn about art from reading descriptions on the wall of museums. Hearing first hand experience about the culture of art you are viewing can open a whole new viewpoint that wouldn’t be available if they weren’t there. The refugees have the ability to share their own experiences with the art/stories surrounding the art. This idea is such an innovative way to help refugees tell their stories while at the same time making a museum experience that much more informational. I would love to see more museums across the country/world do this.

  11. Kiersten Laclede

    A fundamental aspect of museums is to not only expose visitors to unfamiliar cultures, but to also connect people to their own cultures. Having refugees and immigrants present information on their home cultures is a great way to expose and share it. As the author also states, it also regrounds people in their own cultures when they’re feeling disconnected from it. While the ethical acquisitions methods the article brings up are a topic for another discussion, this article portrays how museums work to portray information in unique and new ways.

  12. Erik Dale

    The Philadelphia Art museum seems like a very interesting place to visit. There are a lot of interesting Middle Eastern items that are on display. It is surprising that the gold and jewelry hold great significance in Middle Eastern society. There are a lot of interesting artifacts from the cemetery of Ur that are on display. This museum presents very detailed artifacts that in a way, explain how people lived in middle eastern society.


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