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Modernizing Traditions on the Roof of the World: Displaying ‘Liberation’ and ‘Occupation’ in Three Tibet Museums

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This article investigates the representational interplay between tradition and modernity in three museums about Tibet: the Tibet Museum in Lhasa, China; the Qinghai Tibetan Culture Museum in Xining, China; and the Tibet Museum in Dharamsala, India. Analyzing how each museum displays Tibetan heritage, three modalities of representing Tibetan culture and Tibet’s disputed ‘liberation’ are identified – triumphant modernization, spectacular sacralization, and catastrophic witnessing. Each modality reproduces, counters and complicates dominant Chinese narratives concerning Tibet’s history, culture and political status. Also discussed are the implications of these practices for displaying contested cultural narratives in contemporary China.
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Keywords: Qinghai Tibetan Culture Museum; Tibet Museum, Dharamsala; Tibet Museum, Lhasa; display rhetorics; exhibitionary practices; representations of Tibet

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Colorado Denver 2: University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Publication date: February 1, 2015

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  • The Journal of Curatorial Studies is an international, peer-reviewed publication that explores the cultural functioning of curating and its relation to exhibitions, institutions, audiences, aesthetics and display culture. The journal takes a wide perspective in the inquiry into what constitutes "the curatorial." Curating has evolved considerably from the connoisseurship model of arranging objects to now encompass performative, virtual and interventionist strategies. While curating as a spatialized discourse of art objects remains important, the expanded cultural practice of curating not only produces exhibitions for audiences to view, but also plays a catalytic role in redefining aesthetic experience, framing cultural conditions in institutions and communities, and inquiring into constructions of knowledge and ideology.
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