Accepted Paper:

Defining Asia’s cultural matrix?  


Chiara Formichi (Cornell University)

Paper short abstract:

I investigate the relation between art collection practices and academic constructions of Asia with a focus on Islamic and Asian Studies. With research in Europe, US and Asia I argue that these approaches fostered an image of Asia’s original cultures as solely rooted in the Hindu-Buddhist traditions.

Paper long abstract:

In 2011 the Metropolitan Museum opened its renovated Islamic Art wing. In 2012 the Louvre opened its own new galleries on Islamic Art. Yet, neither New York nor Paris give any space to Asia beyond Moghul India. The Met’s Southeast Asia collection focuses on the Hindu-Buddhist “classical” period, while the Louvre simply does not have any objects from Asia, as these are exhibited at the Musée Guimet. Currently, the British Museum is setting up a Gallery of the Islamic World with support from a Malaysian foundation, yet the search for a curator has focused on the Perso-Arab tradition.

Although 60% of the world Muslims live in Asia, and almost a quarter of the total find their home in Southeast Asia, Western museums do not represent Islam as contributing to Asia’s cultural matrix.

In this presentation I investigate the relationship between art collection practices and the ways in which “Asia” has been constructed in the academic field, with a dedicated focus to the shaping of two disciplinary fields of study, Islamic Studies and Asian Studies (with a focus on Southeast Asia). Based on research conducted in Europe, America and Asia, I argue that academic and curatorial approaches have fostered an image of Asia’s “original” cultures as solely rooted in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

Panel P006
Museums of Asian Arts outside Asia: Questioning Artefacts, Cultures and Identities