Exhibiting and viewing culture, curiosities and the nation at the Lahore Museum
Taking the global cultural technology of the 'museum', this thesis investigates it beyond the largely western confines within which it has so far been researched in terms of history, politics/poetics of representation or consumption. The 'new museology' promoted critical revisionism of museum practice in the representation of culture (own and 'other'), one strand of which applied postcolonial theory to the museum space. This allowed a self-reflexive anthropology to re-visit its own historical development, where as part of colonial adventure and ethnography, material collections and narratives that signified the 'other' were produced in museums - in the west, and colonies, such as India. However, the predominant focus around an 'ideal' Eurocentric museum model within the 'centre' has left non-western museums on the periphery. The global discourse on the museum it seems has little room for museums in the other. Attempting to redress this imbalance for South Asia, this thesis intends to offer an ethnographic account of the Lahore Museum a museum popularized in the western imagination as Rudyard Kipling's Ajaib Ghar. This historical facet is one aspect that is pertinent here as it illuminates the colonial investment in establishing museums in colonial India, whose development parallels the museums that stand as icons of culture, history and art in the west today. Interjecting moments from the past and present, this thesis looks at the use of the Lahore Museum by British colonialists for increasing trade, art reform and visualizing colonial India, appropriation by Pakistani museologists espousing notions of cultural/national heritage post-Partition and most importantly ongoing translations by local visitors who coagulate a desire to learn mixed with a pleasure in seeing the curious. Museums in South Asia have their own historical trajectories and contemporary socialization that should not be reduced to an 'alternative' museum culture, but as this thesis suggests, used to promulgate a South Asian museology and way of seeing the museum.