Beyond the Spectacular: (Re)presenting Islamic Art and Politics of Display

By Louise Ryan.

Published by The International Journal of Arts Theory and History

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper explores the capacity of museums to represent identity, difference and belonging, and promote cross-cultural understanding in displays of Islamic culture. Since a fundamental premise of the museum has been the aspiration to build bridges between diverse cultures, these institutions have positioned themselves as mediators for cultures facing confrontation by taking on an educational and civic role in social and cultural development. In doing so however, the museum has become a contested site in terms of the practices, policies and procedures developed and implemented in response to changeable and often volatile socio-political climates. This study explores the complexities of promoting cross-cultural understanding in a display of Islamic artifacts in Sydney in 2007. Considering the intensity and prevalence of Islamophobia in Australia (Dunn et al. 2004, 2007) which radicalizes Western Muslims and reinforces the East / West divide affecting notions of nation, Islamic identity and citizenship, the study questions the “Art of Islam: Treasures from the Nasser D Khalili Collection” travelling exhibition’s impact on and interrelations with institutional and societal tensions. In illustration, preliminary findings from interviews and focus groups in relation to this exhibitionary event will be discussed. This case study will be positioned in the wider context of the politics of display in terms of how non-Western cultures are portrayed by Western institutions, and whether these exhibitions contribute to developing greater understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim communities specifically, and present alternate local and global images of the Arab / Muslim world generally.

Keywords: Art Museums, Politics of Display, Muslim and Non-Muslim Communities' Islamic Artifacts, Cross-cultural Understanding, Socio-political Issues

The International Journal of Arts Theory and History, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp.51-67. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 758.870KB).

Louise Ryan

Doctoral Candidate, Institue for Culture and Society (formerly Centre for Cultural Research), University of Western Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Louise Ryan is a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Culture and Society (formerly the Centre for Cultural Research), University of Western Sydney. She has been an art educator for nearly thirty years and completed her Masters of Art Education (Honours) in 2007 in the area of museum studies, specifically educational philanthropy, Australian art and cultural development. She is currently investigating the museum as a contested space with particular reference to the complexities of promoting cross-cultural understanding in a display of Islamic artefacts and notions of nation, Islamic identity and citizenship, and the wider social imperative of promoting alternative local and global constructions of Islamic identity and Muslim communities. She has regularly presented at conferences and published papers on these topics both nationally and internationally.