GLAMi nomination: The Rama Epic Audio Tour

nominated by: Lorraine Goodwin, Asian Art Museum, USA
institution: Asian Art Museum
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
iTunes app download: | Google play app download:

Bloody battles, daring rescues, passionate romance and a shape-shifting monkey warrior. One of the world’s greatest works of literature, the Rama epic teems with excitement. For centuries, this beloved tale has been told again and again through visual and performing arts.

To coincide with the exhibition, The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe, the Asian Art Museum worked with Acoustiguide to veer from a traditional audio tour consisting of curatorial commentary on the artistic merits of the works on view. Instead, the experience was in line with the tradition of interpreting and reinterpreting the epic for generations. More closely resembling a radio drama or serial storytelling podcast, this innovative audio tour enabled visitors to delve into the personalities and perspectives of four main character in the story: Rama; his wife Sita; Rama’s faithful monkey lieutenant Hanuman; and the 10-headed demon king Ravana. As visitors viewed the artworks, they could listen to the characters—warmly voiced by actors—describe the heartache and triumphs they experienced in those very scenes. Some of the artworks featured multiple scenes, and depictions of the characters often varied across works in the exhibition, which hailed from several countries. The narrator therefore guided visitors to specific depictions of characters, actions, and scenes in the artworks in order to prompt participants to look more closely and understand the narrative conventions in the pieces. Music was used to enhance the narrative, some of which was adapted from the classic version of the epic by the Indian poet Valmiki.

Following the structure of the exhibition, the audio tour in the first gallery featured scenes that focused on Rama, while also providing the overarching narrative of the story. In this section, visitors heard Rama’s perspective, with the support of the other characters when applicable. Later galleries followed this same format, but provided recounts of the story from the perspectives of the three other featured characters. The focus on the characters’ perspectives was meant to help visitors discover the timeless human struggles and poignant moments in the epic, while gaining a deeper understanding of the works on view.

An evaluation of the audio tour revealed that it surpassed expectations for many visitors. The majority of participants felt that the audio tour helped them understand or connect with the characters and artworks. When asked if visitors would prefer this storytelling approach verses curatorial commentary, over two-thirds of visitors chose the former approach. Comments included: “Loved the voice actors and interactiveness of the audio tour.” Liked how the audio tour incorporated different characters’ perspectives.” “It [was] really fun and entertaining. It felt like walking out of a movie.” “Smart storytelling, engaging.”