Facts, Form, Feelings and Future in Museum Guiding

by Asma Abdullah

As volunteers we have to remember a lot of facts on the various artefacts, events, personalities and exhibits displayed in the four galleries of Muzium Negara, Malaysia.  So, how do we organise our presentation in an interesting (not amusing), informative (not teaching), stimulating (not astonishing), and convincing (not influencing) manner when we take our visitors through the museum?

One structured approach that I want to recommend is to use the whole brain thinking model based on the left and right brain research done by Ned Hermann.  This model states that we can segment our delivery by using the 4Fs of Facts, Form, Feelings and Future to sieve through the voluminous information that we have gathered from various sources.


In the first segment, FACTS, we can include dates, numbers, and anything quantifiable relating to the specific artefact or event. It has to be logical and technically accurate as dates are important especially when we are describing a particular event. These facts are processed in the left hemisphere of our “thinking” brain.

For the second segment, FORM, we can describe the features, fixtures, format and if there is a  particular sequence on how and when the artefact was constructed.  It would also be useful to highlight the planning process, procedures involved and how the tasks were completed in giving shape to the object/event we are describing. These are processes in our left brain which likes order, system and sequence.

In the third segment, FEELINGS, we highlight the personalities involved in the construction of the artefact and the people involved in order to give it a human perspective. After all, there is always a personal attachment of a person to the artefact if we care to look for it. This takes place in our right emotional brain.

For the last segment, FUTURE, we can use a big picture or overview about the artefact/event and its meaning and significance to people who are associated with it. At this stage we can begin to draw some implications that the artefact may have in modern times. This is our “abstract” right thinking brain.

These 4Fs can be remembered through color coding: Blue for Facts, Green for Form, Red for Expressed emotions and Yellow for Future.

To illustrate the use of the 4Fs the national heritage artefact, Avalokiteswara, located in Gallery B will be used.

12-1 AvalokiteshwaraFACT: It is a Boddhisatva which is a Buddha-to-be.  Ava means down, Lokita means to notice/observe and Isvara means lord/master.  Avalokitesvara means the lord that looks down to observe in compassion those who are suffering. Avalokitesvara first appeared in Indian Buddhism as one of a number of Bodhisattvas who are personifications of various attributes of the Buddha relating to compassion. It was found in a tin mine belonging to Anglo Oriental at Bidor, Perak in 1936 and dated to being between the  7 – 12th centuries when the culture of the region was Hindu-Buddhist.

FORM:  The statue is made of bronze and has 8 arms, each arm representing a different aspect of his compassionate nature. One of its arms has broken off.

FEELINGS:  Avalokiteswara is shown as a female Boddhisatva, seen as a light for the blind, shade for those hot and weary, a stream for the thirsty, a remedy for the ill, father and mother to those who suffer and a guide for the beings in Hell. It has a mantra Om mani padme hum which translated means jewel (compassion) in the lotus (wisdom). This mantra is widely chanted in Tibet and carved onto stones, printed on flags and embossed onto prayer wheels.

FUTURE:  If you go to Ayer Itam in Penang there is a big statue of the Goddess of Mercy or Kuan Yin – an important deity to Buddhists on the island.  This deity is also found in the homes of Malaysian Chinese of Buddhist faith. Kuan Yin is a manifestation of Avalokiteswara.

So, the next time when you have to take visitors through the galleries in Muzium Negara, try using the 4Fs to remember your historical facts and information and to make your one hour guiding an easy task.  Good luck!


Author: Museum Volunteers, JMM

Museum Volunteers, JMM Taking the Mystery out of History

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