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