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Objects in the Contact Zone - The Cross-Cultural Lives of Things

Eva-Maria Troelenberg

One of the major challenges facing art history today is the issue of globalization with its cultural implications - both regarding retrospective historical narratives and contemporary methods. As scholarship and museum audiences alike are becoming more and more internationalized, a (self-) critical analysis of disciplinary standpoints seems more important than ever and is at the center of ongoing discussions within and beyond academia.

In her article "Arts of the Contact Zone" Mary Louise Pratt defines a paradigm for postcolonial literature and linguistics which applies as well to other realms of cross-cultural exchange. The research group seeks to adapt the notion of the "contact zone" as a key term, connecting it to the object: non-European objects which are shown and stored in western museums or collections, reproduced in Western media or are regarded, described, analyzed and categorized through a western lens - such objects are situated in a contact zone. This follows James Clifford's cultural anthropology, while maintaining genuinely art historical solutions as the investigative aim. As such, these contact zones create particular conditions of perception and reception, resulting both from the object's own aura, provenance, or biography and from the recipient's predisposition and intentions. Asymmetrical relations of power can undoubtedly often be observed in such contexts.

This project rejects simple models of "stimulus-response", "influences" or essentialist theories of "exotism" or "Orientalism". Following a potentially asymmetric, but basically reciprocal working hypothesis of transculturation, this research group is looking at case studies which can shed significant light on the production of knowledge in such contact zones. The case studies deal with the interrelation between particular objects or groups of objects and their reception as mediated through museums, collections, or publications in the colonial and postcolonial age. Together, these case studies can bridge the theoretical space between cross-cultural studies and visual culture phenomena and may also induce critical reassessments of established narratives, categories and key terms such as the very idea of "transculturalism" itself.

  Project collaborators
Eva-Maria Troelenberg
Sria Chatterjee
Irene Campolmi
Melania Savino
Elahe Helbig
Maximilian Westphal
Sarah Wiedenmann

Further information
International Workshop "Unsettling Museum Spaces?" (Florence, 27 - 28 March 2014)

International Conference "Images of the Art Museum: Connecting Gaze and Discourse in the History of Museology" (Florence, 26 - 28 September 2013)

Grundsteine islamischer Kunst: Mschatta in Berlin (Eva-Maria Troelenberg)

Mapping Arabia. From Mecca to Dubai (Eva-Maria Troelenberg)

Ancient Near Eastern Antiquities in the Italian Museums: Travels, Collections, Displays (Melania Savino)

Representing Archaeology in the Turkish Pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair (Melania Savino)

Zwei Wege des Austauschs. Frühe Fotografie im Iran (Elahe Helbig)

On the margin at the museum: some studies in re-presenting histories (Sria Chatterjee)

From Theory to Practice: The Rhetoric of Modern Art Museums in The Global Context (Irene Campolmi)

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