Wendy Shaw Abstract

Islam and the Legacies of Empire: Ownership of Islam in Twenty-first Century Museums

Wendy Shaw
Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin

In the late nineteenth century, the study, collection and display of objects widely described through the rubric of “Islamic Art” served as a means of maintaining the power of knowledge in regions of European colonial interest and expansion. Although in the late twentieth century, many post-colonial nation states maintained or established new museums dedicated to this art, often reframed as part of national history, most received little investment or attention. Renewed interest in the Islamic world in the twenty-first century has encouraged major collections of Islamic art throughout the West to reorganize, rename, and renovate their displays of Islamic art. During the same period, major investments by Islamic actors have enabled the construction of new museums in Qatar as well as in Canada. How do the narratives of these initiatives compare with those in long-since established collections? How does the era of collection affect the practice of display, the role of architecture, and the narrative of Islamic culture espoused in various museums? What relationship does investment in museums have with assuming authorship over such narratives? How is this authority related to changing dynamics of global capital and Islamic revivalism in the twenty-first century? This paper will use a comparative approach to contemporary displays of Islamic art to examine the political underpinnings of Islamic culture in museum settings.