Professor Kavita Singh
Museums, Heritage, Culture: Into the Conflict Zone

Tuesday 28 March, 5:30 pm
Mill Lane Lecture Theatre 3

Museums can be seen as material manifestations of one culture’s interest in another. As such, museums are often described as places that build bridges between cultures. But museums have been places of intercultural ‘mis’understandings as well. Drawing upon events that occurred her neighbourhood – in India and in India’s neighbours in South Asia – Professor Singh will discuss episodes in which museums or museum culture writ large caused tensions, anxieties, distrust and anger and precipitated crises between communities, cultures or nations.

In each instance, local groups offer resistance to a museal process that placed artworks within modern, secular frames. But on closer examination, what appeared to be a series of contestations between East and West, the powerful and the weak, secular and sacred, turned out to be embedded in complex local politics as well. Each of these clashes was not just an episode in the fraught relationship between East and West, but also as an instance where the trope of East and West was mobilized by one faction against another in a long history of antagonisms within the East.

Queens College, Benares (Varanasi), North India, C. 1910-20 Photograph Collected by William Ridgeway. MAA P.36690.RDG

There will be a drinks reception at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology after the lecture.

Professor Singh works at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where she teaches courses on the history of Indian painting and the history and politics of museums. She has published essays on issues of colonial history, repatriation, secularism and religiosity, fraught national identities, and the memorialisation of dif cult histories as they relate to museu
ms in South Asia and beyond. Her publications include New Insights into Sikh Art (Marg, 2003), In ux: Contemporary Art in Asia (Sage, 2013), No Touching, No Spitting, No Praying: The Museum in South Asia (Routledge, 2014), Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan (National Museum, 2015) and Real Birds in Imagined Gardens: Mughal Painting between Persia and Europe (Getty Research Institute, 2017).

With the generous support of Peter Chapman, Chair of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Friends, the Museum has established an annual Von Hügel Lecture to commemorate the energy and contribution of the founding Curator, Baron Anatole von Hügel (1854-1928), and to ensure ongoing discussion of the intellectual challenges raised by the Museum and its remarkable collections.

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