Accepted paper:

Deities cannot be tramped: Asian religious artefacts as ways of thinking about Western museography


Valentina Gamberi (Academia Sinica)

Paper short abstract:

By analysing ten different museum collections of Indian storytelling scrolls, the paper deconstructs Western conceptualisations of museum as a neat and distinct category. Particularly, Indian scrolls bring on surface the fusion of sacred and profane, which is repressed in Western culture.

Paper long abstract:

Because of the huge impact of local, religious culture on the way of dealing with material objects, Asian religious artefacts continue to highlight 'the animistic belief on the power of images' (Faure, 1998), namely the capacity of fusing together opposed categories, such as sacred and profane, art and not-art. For instance, the Indian concept of darśan explains why contemporary renditions of deities in mass media and folk art are characterised by cultic values. By analysing ten different museum collections of Indian storytelling scrolls, the Bengali pats and the Rajasthani paṛs, scattered in Europe, UK and USA, the paper aims to deconstruct the same Western concept of museum and to single out its main components. Pats and paṛs cannot be easily grasped by rigid dichotomies such as material and immaterial, ordinary and religious, thus these scrolls sharpen significant hiatuses in museum and material cultural studies, even in the flourishing literature on the dialogue between religious and museum spaces. More clearly, not only do Western collections of Indian storytelling scrolls illustrate the impact of colonial acquisitions on the contemporary encyclopaedic approach to ethnographic material, but scrolls elucidate also the influence of Western aesthetic in representing not-Western artefacts within exhibiting spaces. These museum attitudes reflect a more general humanist paradigm, where (Western) humans would be fundamental means of comparison and judgement of world and phenomena. Field work data on Western difficulties in coming into terms with challenging artefacts like Indian scrolls suggest possible paths towards more efficacious and not-ethnocentric museum presentations.

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