The Art of Minorities: Cultural Representation in Museums of the Middle East and North Africa

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 4:10 PM
Nassau East (New York Hilton)
Virginie Rey, University of California, Irvine
The idea of the museum as a space committed to dialogue and inclusive representation has been central to Western museum practice since the late 1980s. According to this paradigm, museums should strive to mimic the complexity of the societies they represent. This model has had trouble finding ground in other regions of the world, such as the Middle East and North Africa where museums remain – and have mostly been depicted as – the carriers of homogenous national identities, at the expense of cultural and social difference. However, research recently undertaken by anthropologists, museum specialists and historians reveals that this monolithic museographic conception of culture is in the process of being challenged. Whilst some public museums in the region have engaged in the reconsideration of the narratives underpinning their collections, the past two decades have also seen a boom in private museum initiatives led by social and cultural minority groups whose experiences have until now been marginalised within, or absent from, state-led exhibitionary practices. This trend has gained further momentum in the context of the recent territorial realignments and revolutionary movements in the region.

This presentation, and the edited volume upon which it is based, will shed light on how identities are negotiated inside museums, as well as the contradictions and opportunities museums have created for the margins across the Mediterranean basin, from the early twentieth century to the contemporary period. The book’s contributors examine whether museums can provide a suitable canvas for minorities to express their voice, what kind of narratives are articulated, and whether these can challenge cultural and social stereotypes and deploy new kinds of identities.

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