This week’s readings reflect what we as a class have discussed since Week 1: how museums have shown and appropriated non-Western cultures, although the Introduction written by Karp and Lavine go into discussing how this is changing. Museums are reacting to the growing sensitivity and political correctness of its constituents (and potential ones), and are beginning to take steps to ensure that the most amount of people are happy.
Karp and Lavine pose three solutions to the problem Western museums have with displaying non-Western cultural artifacts/pieces: increase transparency, give populations more agency when it comes to their presentation in museums, and hire people who are specialists in non-Western culture. Of course, it’s best to always have an expert on staff to handle projects in the best way possible, but that is costly, especially if the exhibition is only temporary.
This is still a learning process for museums around the country (and world). The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held a “China: Through the Looking Glass” exhibition until September 2015, and it shows how Western cultures, who historically have held more power over other countries, happily take aspects of other countries’ cultures and use/interpret it for their own means, although it can sometimes turn out quite funny (as pictured below). At least the Met was recognizing that the exhibit they were putting on was a Western interpretation of China, although it still makes me cringe today.
At the same time, there is no way for museums to make everyone happy. As Karp and Lavine so succinctly put it, “the larger point, however, is that no matter how the exhibition was organized, it would have been disputed”. People will find a reason to complain about everything, so all the museums can do is make sure that they are not grossly misinterpreting or representing the non-Western cultures they’ve put on exhibit, while also trying to understand (and let the audience understand) its special place in history.