Monday, March 12, 2007

Pretty Blue Diamond!

Some random musings from my D.C. trip:

The Hope Diamond is desi. Who knew? (Probably... um... lots of people. But not me.)

In the Chinese wing of the Freer Galleries, there were a handful of objects, including this incense burner, which were labeled as "essential to a Chinese scholar's study area." It made me wonder what will eventually be displayed and labeled "essential to an American scholar's study area" -- a computer, obviously, but what else? A mug full of pencils? A handful of candy wrappers? A Successory?

I spent an afternoon trying to seek out desi-related things at the Smithsonians, and what I found was a mixture of historicism and exoticism. The Sikh exhibit, for example, was tucked into the Natural History Museum between a bunch of stuffed jaguars killing stuffed gazelles and a room full of butterflies on straight pins, as if Sikhs belonged in the same category as "mysterious creatures of the savannah." In fact, perhaps to complement the stuffed jaguars and pinned butterflies, the exhibit featured life-size cardboard people, each labeled "this is a Sikh." Just like, I suppose, "this is a Tyrannosaurus Rex."

(On the other hand, there was a lot of interesting information, much of which I didn't know, as well as a button one could push to hear thirty seconds of bhangra. I'm always one for pushing buttons in museums.)

There was an Islamic art wing in the Freer museum which managed to completely avoid ever using the word "Muslim," and a Jain statue hiding at the very end of a collection of Hindu statuary which, on the label, described Jains as "austere ascetics." Partially accurate, perhaps, but it doesn't make Jains sound like anyone you'd want to meet -- or like real people, for that matter.

There was theoretically a collection of Indian miniatures on display somewhere, as well as an illustrated Ramayana, but I never found them, and the people at the Freer information desk had never heard of either collection.

I had a great time looking at all of the artwork and statuary and household objects, but it makes me wonder how much of what I'm reading about the displays is filtered, and what they're leaving out (or adding in), and why. It also makes me wonder where the art and artifacts came from, and how we obtained them. (Yes, I know, this is not an original thought by any means.)

And yet, if little white girls couldn't go to museums to see these things, how (besides going to India) would they ever come in contact with them?

And... double yet, what does it mean to put a statue of the goddess Saraswati on the same level as a giant diamond and Seinfeld's puffy shirt?

1 comment:

BrownWriter said...

Wow, your attempt at thoughtful and meaningful post is incredibly shallow and uninteresting.

You do realize your blog is pretty much the online equivalent of those exhibits your criticizing? You know, a shallow, exotcized interest in some curious aspects of another culture that you don't really understand, but want to seem like you're trying to comprehend and explain.