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Commitment is at the heart of their business. These men and women are inspired by the world to act differently and sustainably, making their environment a channel for expression, creativity, innovation and solidarity. Finance, culture, crafts, industry and the media are just some of the fields embodied by these personalities, who agreed to take part in the Proust questionnaire in La Mèche mode. What are their enduring secrets? As far as you’re concerned, they’re spilling the beans.

Production: Cornland Studio

Boris Wastiaudirector of


since 2009, has been responsible for the successful completion of the new museum project, which reopened its doors to the public on October 31, 2014, as well as the reorientation and repositioning of the institution, which was awarded the European Museum of the Year

in 2017. It is now implementing a new
museological strategy
He was a lecturer, and laterprofessor in the History and Anthropology ofnité histoire et anthropologie des religions de l’UNIGE, from 2009 to 2019. Previously, he worked for 11 years as curator at the Royal Museum for Central Africa (Belgium). Aftero have studied anthropology at Université libre de Bruxelles and the University of CoimbraIn 1997, he presented a doctoral thesis in art anthropology at the University of East Anglia on possession cults. Throughout his studies and professional career, Boris Wastiau performs numerous field research missions, both in Africa and Latin America. Crop specialist and religions of Central Africa and of critical museology, he also works on the provenance

the provenance of African collections

, illicit trafficking and restitution issues.

He is the author of numerous books and exhibitions:
ExltCongoMuseum (2000), Mahamba (2000), Chokwe (2006), Médusa en Arique (2008), Afrique Amazonia. The shaman and the thought of the forest (2016), Africa. Religions of ecstasy(2018).


Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Boris Wastiau, Director of MEG, the Musée d’Ethnographie de la Ville de Genève since 2009.
What’s your current state of mind?
I’m a bit worried about the Covid exit and what we called for a while the world after, because today the outlook is a bit like returning to normal, whereas in fact there’s a lot to do. It seems to me that we’ve largely forgotten the root causes of this pandemic, and that we’re concentrating on dealing with the consequences, but that we’ve somewhat forgotten to think about the fundamentals.
What’s your main character trait?
Demanding, perhaps.
What does it mean to be green today?
I don’t really know what it means to be an ecologist today, but I’m delighted to see that ecology is increasingly an issue that cuts across all political parties and the population as a whole, and no longer just a certain section of the population. So it’s the mainstream side of ecological thinking that I’m happy about today.
What triggered your desire to get involved, and how would you describe it?
When it comes to ecology, it’s the fact that we’re talking about it, everyone’s getting involved, there are lots of things being done, there are lots of projects. There’s increasing talk of a climate and environmental emergency, and as a museum, as a public institution, we know we have something to contribute and do. It seemed important to us when we prepared our strategic plan in 2019 to really include the issue of sustainability as one of the five most important strategic axes, with even the claim or commitment to become a benchmark museum in terms of sustainable development. Since then, I’ve learned that talking about sustainable development is a bit of a contradiction in terms, and that we should be talking about sustainability instead, because is perpetual development compatible with something truly sustainable? We have really challenged ourselves in all our practices to integrate the sustainability dimension.
How does this dimension of sustainability manifest itself in everyday life, for example in this museum and its relationship with the collections?
In his relationship with collections, this can be all sorts of things, from a particular concern for maintenance, conservation or restoration products, to a particular concern for packaging materials. For example, two years ago we moved our collections from one depot to another, and we made totally sustainable choices – no plastic, no extruded polystyrene – to take a more environmentally-friendly approach. Then in our project we really have a strategic program, the idea being that in all major projects there should be a sustainability dimension. This is particularly true for exhibitions, which probably represent the biggest carbon footprint for a museum, because they require a lot of scenography and materials. We’ve committed ourselves to a huge reduction, and for the next exhibition we’ve already defined sustainability constraints for the scenographers. There are constraints on reuse, pre-use and also on materials, which will be used for the first time and then used for something else.
We are also working on themes. The next major exhibition to open in September is entitled

“Environmental Injustice – Indigenous Alternatives”

and is devoted entirely to the views of indigenous peoples on the impact of environmental change on their populations, and in particular on the injustices this generates.
Then there are a variety of small projects aimed at changing the work culture and moving towards eco-responsible management within the museum. There are different groups working on different issues from year to year: recycling, digital issues and sustainability, ecogestures… We also have several programs, including in this library where we are, of meetings around sustainability issues.
How does this lasting commitment manifest itself in your personal life?
In my personal life, the question I ask myself is how to make a commitment that is as strong and as coherent as the one I want to make at the institutional level. These are thoughts on means of transport, the idea of abandoning the car and switching to a general subscription, avoiding air travel as much as possible. And we mustn’t let it remain wishful thinking, so there comes a time when we have to take the plunge. It’s also about consumption, and it’s clear that a large part of the carbon footprint is consumption, so personally I think that one of the ways forward is really an economy of frugality, where we need to consume much less and in a more sustainable way. This doesn’t mean we have to sit on the floor, but we do have to make more reasoned choices about products that are much more sustainable. And also, of course, short supply chains, as I personally do: giving priority to food supplies in particular, which are as local as possible, and avoiding – as the pandemic has reminded us – all those extremely exotic products that are produced on the other side of the world, simply because we like to eat them here in Geneva.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
If the question is placed within the museum, it’s that each and every one feels responsible, that each and every one understands that he or she can have an impact through a change of practices in his or her work and collectively also in the way projects are approached. We had made a commitment to become a benchmark museum in terms of sustainable development, and so we can ask ourselves this question:
Does the museum necessarily have to grow, i.e. have more resources, put more money into it, do more things, or does it have to be more relevant and have more impact? This doesn’t necessarily require more resources.
If we take an example, did personalities like Gandhi or Mandela need a lot of money or resources to have an impact? No, these are people who have lived in extreme frugality and yet have been able to convey special messages, in this case of peace and democracy, with extremely limited means. So the idea is to see if development shouldn’t be based on the idea of not always doing more, or broadcasting more, but rather developing relevance with much more modest means.


Tell me about your fondest memory of nature?
I have many, but let’s just say that the last one that comes to mind is a boat cruise in ink at night off the Tuscan coast after a gale. There were huge schools of thousands of phosphorescent jellyfish floating around as we dropped anchor. It was an absolutely fascinating moment, and I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but spending the night on a boat at anchor is a magnificent experience of nature. To be rocked by the waves of the sea…
If you were a tree, what would you be?
An oak tree because it starts out as a tiny acorn and then grows very big and very strong. Oak can be used to build boats, bring freshness and many other things. I love the image of this tree.
What natural ability or skill would you like to have?
To be able to fly between the clouds like the wind, to be able to say to myself that I am particles and travel from the Alps to the antipodes.
If you were an energy source, what would you be?
I’d clearly be geothermal, I’d rather be the volcano.
Your favourite season and why?
I’d say it’s summer because it’s in summer that the mountains are most accessible and I can enjoy them the most.
Your favourite landscape?
My favorite landscape, on the other hand, is the sea, the horizon line over the sea.
What does preserving the planet mean to you?
It’s about reflecting on our being in the world, and it’s something that’s preoccupying us and will continue to preoccupy us in the upcoming exhibition program. In recent years, we have corrected ethnocentric or Eurocentric perspectives to take a more global and shared view.
Today, we have to make the effort to abandon the anthropocentric perspective and then try to get rid – this is posthumanism – of everything we’ve acquired in our upbringing, which makes us, as human beings, feel like we’re on top of a mountain, masters of the world at our feet, with a feeling of superiority over all other species and everything around us.
The idea for me is to make the effort to think about what it is to be in the world and what it means to be in the world for other species, but also for the whole universe around us, and to rethink our relationship to this environment, which is made up of other beings.
What kind of pollution do you dislike?
A lot, but what really gets me – and I’m still complicit in it in a way – is when I find myself in a traffic jam on the freeway. I imagine that there are not thousands, not millions, but billions of combustion engines running around the world right now. And I’m really wondering how it could stop.
What solution for the planet are you looking forward to?
A lot, but perhaps among the many issues that concern us, it would be to make real progress in protecting the oceans.
What’s the one anti-sustainable gesture you’re having trouble giving up?
In this case, letting go of the car, and I think about it a lot.
What can’t you find in your kitchen anymore?
Microwaves have been a thing of the past for years, plastics are virtually non-existent and for a very long time now there have been no exotic products imported by air.
How can you help the environment?
What does me a lot of good, and which unfortunately I haven’t been able to resume for a few years now, but which I’m looking forward to perhaps doing soon, is planting, gardening the earth.
What’s your biggest contradiction?
I must have many, but the biggest one is that the character trait I mentioned earlier is at odds with the need for a much more participative approach, one that puts more emphasis on the teams and initiatives of people other than my own.
If you had to have one, what would your sustainable motto be?
This would be something along the lines of “let’s be frugal in our consumption”. It may not be a pretty motto, but something about frugality.
It is, and it tells a story! What is your idea of happiness?
I’d like to come back to this notion of being in the world, and for me, happiness is truly achieved when it’s a sense of well-being with oneself, with other human beings and with the other beings in the world.
So really being able to live as individuals and members of a dune in a harmonious relationship with nature. In short, a kind of planetary conviviality between species.
And the notion of pleasure?
Part of the pleasure I feel is in the effort accomplished, which can be the effort in accomplishing a construction, a project, but which can also be simpler. I really enjoy trekking in the mountains, getting closer to the elements, in the sense of being cut off from social relations, finding myself and feeling alive in elements that we often see as postcard landscapes, and really feeling them in our bodies when we walk for a long time.
What do you think we can do on an individual level to make a difference?
There are many ways to act. The first is really consumption, and I think – well, I don’t think, I know – that among the younger generations, there’s a very strong awareness, ranging from an interest in where the clothes we wear come from (where they’re made, the materials they’re made from) to food consumption. There’s a growing interest in local sourcing and organic produce. I think there are a lot of individual gestures that are well known, and I think it’s something that’s already well ingrained in the younger generations.
What’s your utopia?
Utopia would be to be able to turn back the clock a few centuries and return to a period of pre-colonization. Europe’s colonization of the world, which saw the successive development of slave plantations, and the development of the coal, steel and railroad industries, enabled further colonization. Then there’s extractivism, the development of mining which has enabled the development of world trade, mainly to the advantage of Europe and North America, and which is the main cause of the destruction of both the environment and cultural diversity around the world. So utopia would be to be able to go back in time and avoid this colonial process, which is at the root of most ecosystem degradation, since colonization, with all it has brought in terms of the development of production and therefore consumption, consumer goods but also food and the associated sciences, has led to a demographic explosion that the earth can no longer support.
What would be the three steps or the three things that could bring us closer to this utopia today? What can we do to move in the right direction?
Firstly, I think it’s
A lucid awareness that must not be influenced by detractors who say we’re going to make people feel guilty. It’s not a question of feeling guilty, it’s a question of realizing that we all have the possibility of acting through our actions, our words, through what we pass on to other generations, through what we exchange.
So it’s really awareness that’s the first step, which also involves reflection that I hope will lead most people to understand that the main thing, as Greta Thunberg was hammering home, is that it’s not a question of opinions, but of
scientific facts
and what science can tell us today; it’s not an illusion, it’s a reality.
Then to be able to understand that, which is more or less your previous question,
we can have an impact at the level
individual activity, at family level, in the social group in which we evolve, but also at work and through various forms of commitment. And I’m delighted to see the commitment of young people to the climate marches and the climate strike, which show us that these issues really affect this generation, and their commitment is very important.
And then, if you’re conscious and committed, you have to be able to actually
implement things
You have to be able to build the alternatives you imagine, while at the same time remaining critical of the solutions proposed. Try to avoid being radical, but be able to evaluate and really take an interest and devote time to this reflection and to observing the evolution of the solutions that are emerging and that are available to us.
What would tomorrow’s ideal community look like?
The ideal society where the ideal community would be, in the context of the conversation we’re having today, the one with the least impact in terms of overall pollution on its environment.
Thank you very much Boris.
Thank you very much.

We’d love to hear your inspiring stories! If you’d like to try your hand at the Proust questionnaire, or share your experience, commitment, tips or gripes, go to the “Share with us” discussion forum on the La Mèche platform, here:

Questionnaire de Proust

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