Accepted Paper:

National Museum of Beirut: Narrative, Identity, Money  


Asli Altinisik (American University of Beirut)

Paper short abstract:

How does private capital play a role in constructing, conveying and challenging a national identity in the National Museum of Beirut? This paper will explore the ways in which individual wealth partakes in the curation of Lebanese-ness at the National Museum.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will examine the National Museum of Beirut's (NMB) narration of national identity and will focus on the role private capital. The objective is not to define a Lebanese national identity or compare different definitions of it, but to explore the ways in which Lebanese-ness is curated at the NMB. As a political project, construction of (a) national identity at the NMB is not exclusively the work of the state, nor is it monolithic. National identity is a discursive formation and a negotiation between conflicting or overlapping interests, interpretations and agencies. In terms of the objects and the cultural edifice they are displayed in, archaeological excavation projects and the idea of a national museum are legacies of the Ottoman rule and the French mandate. These influences yield an eclectic ideational basis for the museum. This basis is further complicated by the contemporary history of Lebanon, specifically with the Civil War between 1975 and 1990. In the aftermath of the war there have been a surge of private donations for archaeological objects' renovations, moreover, associations with the mission of 'heritage protection' have bourgeoned. In other words, renovation sponsorships and heritage associations have become particular means for private wealth to assert its own versions of Lebanese-ness at the NMB. Individual wealth has thus come to complement, or counter, the official narrative at the museum. In light of these dynamics, this paper will look at the role of individual wealth in the narration of Lebanese-ness at the NMB.

Panel P030
Art and History Museums in the Middle East as places of social and political production