Italy has a new working group on Provenance under ICOM

by Sofia Bollo

I sat next to Maria Camilla De Palma, Director of the Museum of World Culture in Genova, during the ICOM Italy General Assembly in Genova in April 2023 when the new call and regulations for working groups under ICOM Italy were launched (Gruppi di Lavoro GdL ICOM Italia). I turned to her and asked: “You already have a working group on Provenance in Italy, right?” She turned to me, opened her eyes wide and stated: “Let’s do it!”.

The Italian Working Group on Provenance and Decolonisation wants to bring attention to the biography of objects with non-European geographical origins that are now part of Italian museum collections. It comprises five museums in Italy and more than 20 affiliated members with a common interest in the archival documentation of these collections and their new role as mediating objects in the contemporary social landscape in Italy and the world. Our operational members are Maria Camilla De Palma (Museum of World Cultures, Castello D’Albertis Genova); Carolina Orsini, Anna Antonini, Sara Chiesa (all Museum of Culture, Milan); Cecilia Pennacini, Erika Grasso (both Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the University of Turin); Aurora Canepari (Museum of Oriental Art Edoardo Chiossone, Genova); Rosa Anna Di Lella, Gaia Delpino (both Museum of Civilizations, Rome). Our WG was recognized under ICOM Italy in the fall of 2023.


We want to initiate a systematic exchange among museum professionals and other actors in Italy on the topic of Provenance Research. We aim to raise awareness and facilitate a discussion on provenance research in Italy and connect with other partners abroad. Together, we build conditions for a more significant commitment to transparency in the management and communication of the collections concerned.

In January 2024, the members of the WG were asked to find keywords they would associate with the value of provenance research and their reason for joining the WG. Below are their answers listed alphabetically, some of them occurring more than once: Accessibility, Scientific analysis, Belonging/ownership, Archaeology, Archives, Biography (2), Cataloguing, Clarity, Collections, Consumption, Contest (2), Database, Digitization, Global History (2), Label, Sources, Justice. Interconnections (network analysis), Interdisciplinarity, Interviews, Market, Museography, Origins, Research (2), Reconstruction, Knowledge, Sociality, Tear, Transparency (4), Valorisation, Truth.

Ongoing Projects

Our projects can be broadly divided into three main areas: Management, Research, and Dissemination. We started working on the digitalization of the collections aimed at identifying and systematizing the fields used to indicate provenance data in the different national cataloguing systems to:

  1. Facilitate provenance research locally and internationally.
  2. Increase the compatibility of archives and enable data interoperability.
  3. Allow transparency and public accessibility of collections.

With the guidelines provided by the ICCD Central Cataloguing and Documenting Institute in Italy, we want to establish shared practices for cataloguing collections with non-European origins In Italy. To increase standardization and recognition of specific database fields targeted to information derived from provenance research and optimise archiving in the Italian context, we are focusing on the SIGEC WEB digital platform, about which we will hold an internal dedicated webinar on April 12th 2024.

We work closely with other Working Groups under ICOM Italy, particularly with colleagues responsible for security, legality, accessibility, open depots, communication, and conservation. We support the newly created vast network of museums with collections of non-European heritage in Italy named “MuPam” promoted by the Museum of Cultures in Milan. The network will meet for the second time in person in Parma at the Museum of Chinese Art and Ethnography on April 10th, 2024, on International Provenance Research Day.

The first meeting of operational and affiliated members of the group took place on Zoom on March 25th 2024. We will meet again together for a workshop designed to jointly work on the development of a standard glossary at the national level, the identification of models for diligence and good practices, both for existing collections and new acquisitions, and the declination in practical terms of the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums on the theme of Provenance in Italy. We are considering holding the workshop in Genova, Liguria, to jointly celebrate the 20th anniversary of the reopening of the Museum of World Cultures Castello D’Albertis, one of our founding and operational members.

To strengthen the network and facilitate further dissemination, the WG provides a platform for public dialogue and exchange on provenance and decolonization in museums. With this aim, we already created a public listing on LinkedIn “Provenienza e Decolonizzazione”, which you are all invited to join. In addition, ICOM offers the possibility to museum practitioners, researchers, various actors, and everyone interested in the subject of provenance research in Italy (including non-ICOM members) to formally become affiliated with the group. As an affiliated member of our group, you can receive information on current activities, participate in ongoing and future projects, be part of the conversation and get involved in national and international exchanges.

Future Projects

We aim to transform the museums in Italy into a more inclusive place of continuous learning and stimulus for the different communities that interact with them. We want to increase participation, accessibility, inclusion, and public awareness. To this aim, we have developed some ideas to be implemented in the coming years.

  • Simplified database to be published online and accessible to the broader public.
  • Collective Catalogue of Key Case Studies in Provenance Research in Italy
  • Permanent interventions in the galleries branded with a shared colour and a recognizable consistent design over different museums in Italy.
  • Support the organization of public events via the ICOM Secretary’s Office.

We also support the creation of new collaborations and the development of existing collaborations with the communities of origin of the objects, which will be fostered to promote international cultural cooperation. Do you have any inquiries or collaboration requests? You can contact us at, and we will be happy to collaborate and help you connect with the respective partner in Italy.

Sofia Bollo is the Coordinator of the ICOM Italy Working Group on Provenance / Gruppo di Lavoro ICOM Italia: Provenienza materiali e Decolonizzazione. She holds a BA in Chinese Language and Culture from the University of Turin, an MA in Chinese Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies SOAS in London, and a PhD in Art History, with Anthropology as a supporting discipline, at the University of Zurich. Her research on museums in China draws together different academic disciplines and focuses particularly on museum-elaborated narratives on China’s prehistoric past and the interpretation and representation of archaeological collections in museums in China in the present. She gained working experience in event and project management, worked in diverse museum institutions and is now in higher education administration.

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