photo: heroes of the anti-colonial resistance, Algiers

Art and the Museum

ARTH 390, Summer 2011
Instructor: Dr. Annette Bhagwati


Course Description
Every exhibition is built on the cultural assumptions of the people who make it. It is the exhibitors who make judgments about the meaning and value of an object, appraise the cultural competence of their audience and decide on setting and display. From this perspective, a museum is no longer a ‘neutral’ forum for the arts but becomes a contested terrain in which the struggle is “not only over what is to be represented but over who controls the means of representation.” (Karp, 1991). While this ‘politics’ of exhibition making holds true for any exhibition, it becomes particularly complex when attempts are made to represent cultural ‘others’, raising questions about the production of knowledge and the shaping of images of ‘self’ and the ‘other’.

The course is aimed at exploring the symbols, ideas, and assumptions that inform historical and contemporary practices of exhibition making with regard to non-Western arts and cultures. The students will be introduced to early examples of public display (cabinets of curiosities) and examine interpretive differences between art, anthropology and other types of museums and institutions. They will be familiarized with a critical discussion of curatorial agendas and explore contemporary trends in exhibition practice. Issues will include questions of authorship and identity, (cross)-cultural notions of art and aesthetics, and the politics of cultural display in a post colonial context.

Center for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence