Museum Display of Tibetan Art

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Results of an ethnographic study of visitors at the 14 Dalai Lamas exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum in Zurich, Switzerland. Presented at the 8th annual conference of the European Sociological Association (ESA) on September 4, 2007 in Glasgow, Scotland

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Museum Display of Tibetan Art

  1. 1. ‘Westerners know more than us’ Conflict and negotiation in museum display of Tibetan art Shelley Mannion University of Lugano 4 September 2007 Glasgow, Scotland 8th Annual Conference of the European Sociological Association
  2. 2. Tibetans in exile • 140,000 living outside Tibet Switzerland 3rd largest exile community • Challenges of cultural survival Preservation of heritage Transmission to next generation 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  3. 3. Museums as sites of negotiation • Shared heritage Western museums as inheritors Increase in Western Buddhist practitioners • Museums as contact zones (Clifford 1997) Collection becomes ongoing relationship Reciprocity 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  4. 4. The 14 Dalai Lamas Exhibition, Zurich http://www.diedalailamas.ch • August 2005 – April 2006 • 17,000 visitors • Ethnographic visitor study (36 interviewees) • Institution of Dalai Lamas through art Conceived as means to advance scholarship Didactic aims: Political-historical • Explain the entire system • Highlight individual characteristics • Debunk myths and stereotypes • Convey atmosphere 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  5. 5. Visual and spatial languages: Exterior entrance 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  6. 6. Visual and spatial languages: Chronological 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  7. 7. Visual and spatial languages: Allotment of gallery space 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  8. 8. Visual and spatial languages: Symmetric arrangement 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  9. 9. Visual and spatial languages: Monastery-like design 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  10. 10. Interpretive media: print catalogue and audio guide 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  11. 11. Itineraries of identity • MacDonald (1995) • Five visitor itineraries: General interest Emotionally connected Buddhists Intellectual Tibetan 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  12. 12. Decoding visitor itineraries • Hall (1980) triad of television news reception Dominant-hegemonic Negotiated Oppositional Non-consumption 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  13. 13. Four Western itineraries Itinerary Way identity expressed Type of reading 1) Intellectuals Proud of being Dominant- experts hegemonic 2) General interest Lifestyle connection Non-consumption Negotiated 3) Emotionally connected Imagined citizenship Non-consumption through travel Negotiated 4) Buddhist Articulation of Non-consumption Buddhist faith 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  14. 14. Tibetan itineraries • Preservation of heritage • Cultural transmission Some oppositional response Practiced by families Authenticity Not supported by environment Translation competence Objects as reminders of lack of knowledge Complex negotiation with exhibit and within family • Both accepted audio commentary without question 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  15. 15. Conflicts and negotiations • Attitudes • Interpretive messages • Media • Museum environment 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  16. 16. Tibetan attitudes • Embarrassment about lack of knowledge • Outsiders: ‘Westerners know more than us’ • Reluctance to question or criticize • Proud to see art in Western museums 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  17. 17. Interpretive messages • Not connected with the Tibetan ‘people’ • Intellectual focus problematic for novices • Political emphasis perceived as attack 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  18. 18. Media • Audio guide suppressed Tibetan narratives • Photographs “irrepressible” (Edwards 2001) E. Edwards, (2001) Raw Histories: Photographs, Anthropology and Museums 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  19. 19. Museum environment • Silence obstructs cultural transmission • Sacred objects in secular settings 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art
  20. 20. Conclusions • Museum key site of negotiation for diaspora conflicts • Identity construction at ethnographic exhibitions Tibetans filter through cultural identity • Potential solutions to challenges Acknowledge diversity Be sensitive to self-deprecating attitudes Support social itineraries Open texts (photographs) 'Westerners know more than us': Conflict and negotation in museum display of Tibetan art

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