Weber, Stefan. "Pulling the Past into the Present: Curating Islamic Art in a Changing World, a Perspective from Berlin." In International Journal of Islamic Architecture, Volume 7, Number 2 (pp. 237-261) , edited by Yuka Kadoi and Mohammad Gharipour, Bristol: Intellect, 2018.
Demographic and social change presents museums with challenges at various levels. Islam has become a core referent in public discourse, which often also affects views of collective identity and personal political stances in fundamental ways. The dominant place of Islam in global debate does not stop at the doors of our museums. The main thesis of this article is that exhibitions of Islamic art are, whether we like it or not, sites of identity negotiation where relations to ‘me and my world’ are established. This article takes a closer look at the process of identity formation in regard to contemporary museum politics. It asks questions such as, ‘In what ways do the social dynamics surrounding the subject of Islam function, and how do these impact museum spaces?’; ‘What role do museums have in these emerging dynamics?’; and ‘How do curators respond to the shifting needs of visitors?’ The classical layout and communication strategies of Islamic art collections were often insufficiently framed to address these layered concerns, despite curators’ knowledge of the rich diversity of Islamicate histories. During the last few years, however, different curatorial teams have struggled to discover better techniques and narratives for this diversity. The Berlin Museum contains one such team, and the second part of this article outlines some of their new approaches.
Keywords: Islamic art; Islamism and Islamophobia; cultural education; identity; museum; ‘Multaka’