Philip Geisler presents his research at the MESA Annual Meeting in New Orleans
During the Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), our doctoral resarcher Philip Geisler will give a presentation on "The Performativity of Objects: Reconstituting the Islamic Art Museum". His talk will be part of a panel on "Archaeology and Museumology".
Recently, a majority of Islamic art museums have reorganized their displays or been newly constructed. Simultaneously, a number of these institutions have extended their role as conservators of objects to include immaterial forms of culture. Programs presenting performing arts, including dance, music, and comedy have been established. This has resulted in exhibitions featuring compositions dedicated to specific objects and investigating the reciprocal impacts of music on art, and of art on music in Islamic cultures. This gives rise to several questions: How does performance complement the museum’s framing of objects, their history, and their materiality? And how can such a dialogue of tangible and intangible forms of culture inform the methodology with which objects and the institution of the museum are approached?
Using the Aga Khan Museum (AKM) in Toronto as a case study, this paper assesses these shifts to investigate how the museum frames its objects in the dichotomy of art and material culture in order to illustrate a methodological path theorizing the museum as a performance of culture. The AKM, opened in 2014, is part of a complex institutional network and asserts to present an encyclopedic collection that foregrounds the pluralism of Islamic societies from the 8th to the 19th century. It has also established an extensive performing arts program. The paper seeks to examine in what way the understanding of the AKM and the meaning of its objects change if these are theorized through their performativity rather than through more traditional art historical methodology.
The paper argues that in the museum, objects become part of an institutional dynamic in which a culture is constituted through the attempt to represent and narrate it. Thus, museum objects (and performing arts) are not mere ambassadors of culture, but in the context of display practices and their interaction with visitors they bring forth the social and cultural reality to which they are referring. To illustrate this, the paper assesses how the AKM engages the museum through a framework of performativity, focusing on the way it represents and thus constitutes Islamic culture by creating multisensory spaces of experience and spatial narratives based on objects, performances, and architectural settings. In the debate of art versus material culture, the paper’s goal is to investigate how such a perspective can contribute to reconciling disciplinary divisions between art history and anthropology through suggesting the performativity of objects as an alternative to formalist versus contextualizing approaches.
Time & Location
Nov 14, 2019 | 05:30 PM - 07:30 PM
Sheraton New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana