|Title||Interpretation and visitors in two Islamic art exhibitions|
In the past fifteen years there has been an increase is Islamic art exhibitions in the United States and Europe. Islamic art exhibition includes both reinstallations of permanent collections and temporary exhibitions. Often Islamic art exhibitions are equated with broader social and political contexts and infused with beliefs like Islamic art can “bridge divides” (Flood, 2007; Winegar, 2008) and “speak” for the humanity of Islam and Muslim peoples. This conflation or slippage is unique to the coverage of Islamic art exhibition and may, at least in part, be rooted in societal and religious ideologies like Orientalism and Islamophobia.
Contemporaneously, there has been a steadily growing body of research on interpretative theory in new museology. However, no significant attempt has been made to amalgamate and apply the recent academic research in interpretative theory, including design interpretation, museum graphics and written interpretation to the analysis of Islamic art exhibitions. This thesis examines the interpretation, the process(es) of interpretation production and visitors responses in two Islamic art exhibitions in the United States: the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia (New Galleries) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and Pearls on a String: Artists, Poets, and Patrons at the Great Islamic Courts (Pearls) at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
This thesis utilizes a triangulated methodological approach where the theoretical research in interpretative theory is applied to a case study of New Galleries interpretation. A critical reflection method is adopted to examine the author’s professional involvement in the Pearls exhibition. Summative visitor evaluations of both exhibitions were undertaken in order to better understand the meanings visitors’ make.
Ultimately this thesis argues that a unified, process-based approach (Whitehead,2012) to interpretation with both design and written interpretation is important because of the association or slippage between Islamic art exhibitions and the broader social and political contexts.