Transcending boundaries : the arts of Islam : treasures from the Nassar D. Khalili Collection
This thesis examines and problematizes curatorial decision-making favouring the experiential encounter over interpretative/didactic modes of display when the museum’s mandate is to promote cross-cultural understanding between Muslim and Non‐Muslim communities through displays of Islamic art and culture. Based on a case study of the travelling exhibition The Arts of Islam: Treasures from the Nassar D. Khalili Collection, this investigation traces the journey of a collection of artifacts through four exhibitionary sites (Sydney, Abu Dhabi, Paris, and Amsterdam) from 2007-2011. A central aim of this study is to demonstrate the polysemic nature of artifacts when placed in the museum context by exploring the notion that objects acquire additional meanings as a result of site‐specific curatorial decision‐making. To this end, a theoretical model is developed and applied that profiles how differing practices, procedures and policies of display involve a process of (re)presentation, (re)contextualization, disruption and transformation, affected by and impacting upon particular social, political and cultural nuances in the wider public sphere. A ‘tool box’ approach to analysis is adopted, drawing on a range of theories from the fields of post-colonial studies, museology, and cultural theory. Interviews with a cross-section of stakeholders from exhibition venues provide empirical evidence for the evaluation of the experiences, opinions and perspectives of sponsors, curators and museum audiences who were involved in or attended exhibitions and their related events. Additionally, conversations with museum professionals from a range of prominent institutions are included to allow comparison with the travelling display. In conjunction with findings from primary and secondary sources, discussions will involve reference to museological challenges and dilemmas including: East/West relations historically; Orientalism and practices of Islamic collecting by individuals and organizations; the effects of patronage and sponsorship especially the influence of corporations; the material, aesthetic and commercial properties of the museum object; and questions arising from representations of cultural and aesthetic objects through particular politics of display. These issues are analysed for their interaction with discourse and debates concerning: identity politics, nation building, modernity, governmentality, colonial legacies, multiculturalism, art markets and their collectors, and influence of the media. Final conclusions evaluate the success of these cultural and artistic enterprises and recommendations include the adoption of new museological practices and policies of display that are inclusive of diverse audiences and have the potential to increase cross-cultural understanding on both the local and global level.