Accepted Paper:

Museums in the Gulf: National Identity or Cultural Diplomacy? The Different Narrative of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah in Kuwait.  
Roberto Fabbri (Universidad de Monterrey)

Paper short abstract:

The paper presents Dar al-Athar aI-Islamiyyah's alternative narrative that focuses on art as a diplomatic agent to explain Islamic civilization in broad terms, as opposed to being limited to one country's national discourse as often happens in the museums in the Gulf.

Paper long abstract:

In recent years Gulf sheikhdoms have consolidated their political mandate and legacy through large acquisition programs of artworks and building world-class museums. The aim of these policies is to foster a sense of national collective identity internally, while promoting to the rest of the world the trustful profile of a fully advanced society. While this seems to be the regional trend, this paper investigates the anomaly of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI), a Kuwaiti cultural institution predating most of the museums in the area. The paper argues that DAI offers an alternative narrative focusing on art as a diplomatic agent to explain Islamic civilization in broad terms, as opposed to being limited to one country's national discourse. When in 1991, as a consequence of the first Gulf War, DAI's building was burned down, this unusual condition of being a 'museum-without-walls', protracted for many years, transformed DAI into a fluid entity, showcasing the depth of Islamic civilization locally and internationally through its primary tool of cultural diplomacy: the travelling exhibitions. This paper explores the social aspects and the political context behind these exhibitions at the global and regional scale. It also aims to investigate the role of DAI's archaeological collection on display to contribute to the local perception and understanding of the notion of an imported tradition and an acquired heritage.

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