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Displaying Muslim Cultural Heritage: A 20-Year Retrospect

Thijs Wolzak / Kossmanndejong
Wednesday, October 12, 2022, 11:00 am

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and during the rise of radical terrorism in the early 2000s, a number of cultural institutions worldwide, particularly those with the adjective “Islamic” in their names, became engaged in a growing sociological and historiographical debate about the function and meaning of the display genre called “Islamic art”. Around the same time a number of Euro-American museums have embarked on remodelling their decades-old gallery configurations for seeking compromised, if not ideal, display modes of Islamic art collections, whereas it has become increasingly argued among cultural critics, sociologists and politicians alike that both public and private museums should be designed to offer opportunities for wide public engagement with their collections for a better understanding of “Muslim” – rather than western-defined “Islamic” – cultural heritage. To what extent can fragmental archaeological finds, restored objects and detached manuscript painting pages be installed as the unified image of Muslim civilisation within a self-contained space? How can such decontextualised objects speak for themselves? And how do they reflect current politics of representation in the midst of global transformations? This talk overviews the history, culture and politics of representations in the field of Islamic art and architecture from around 2000 to the present. By surveying a 20-year debate concerning the display genre of “Islamic art” that has so far been centred in West Europe and North America, this talk will seek an alternative avenue to put this contentious debate into Central European museum contexts.

Photo Copyright: Thijs Wolzak / Kossmanndejong