Making a museum: Reimagining borders
(Jawaharlal Nehru University)
Paper short abstract:
My paper focuses on a family-run museum of pre 1947 trade goods in Kargil, Ladakh. I will discuss the curatorial strategy, process and display interventions in a museum of things; the curator as 'outsider'; the value of ethnographic fieldwork;and the politics of remembrance embedded in the display.
Paper long abstract:
My paper focuses on the curating of the permanent exhibition in the 'Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum of Central Asian and Kargil Trade Artifacts', a family owned and run museum in Kargil, located on the border of India and Pakistan; a Shia majority district in largely Buddhist Ladakh, itself located in Sunni dominated Kashmir. I will discuss the curatorial strategy, process and display interventions in a museum of things as varied as textiles, uniforms, shoelaces, soap, buttons, geometry boxes, telegrams and medicine prescriptions (dating from the mid 19th to the mid 20th century when the borders between India and Pakistan were closed). I will discuss the role of a curator as 'outsider', the value of ethnographic fieldwork for collecting oral narratives to underline relationships between things and the people who used them, in order to activate historic objects to make them relevant to contemporary audiences. The use of oral and photographic documentation alongside the objects allowed the museum to become a space that prompted a reimagining of the popular association of Kargil with the 1999 War with Pakistan, with which it shares a border. My paper will discuss how multiple registers of 'value' can be inserted as a curatorial strategy into 'things' to highlight the importance of trade and the coming together of individuals and communities, with an emphasis on cosmopolitanism. This is an unusual case study of a curatorial project that has the potential to lead to an alternative reading and understanding of borders, and the politics of nationhood.
Museums and Anthropology: Colonial and post-colonial collections seen through museums, art and history