GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Hae Won
Title of Paper:
National Identity, Performativity, and Myth-Making in Bahrain National Museum
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper attempts to revisit the historical narrative of ‘myth making’ projected through the captions, images, and multimedia displayed in the exhibitions at the Bahrain National Museum through postcolonial and poststructuralist lenses. As the oldest and largest public museum in Bahrain sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, the Bahrain National Museum that opened a decade after the independence embodies the authority for articulating the public memory, which is endorsed and propagated by the state. More specifically, I contend that the captions articulate an orientalist voice that projects an abstract interpretation of the artefacts and images. As I argue throughout the paper, this ‘authoritative voice’ attempts to articulate a coherent myth that seeks to ‘unearth’ the hidden mysteries and wonders of the ancient pre-Islamic and Islamic civilizations and modern history of Bahrain. The exhibitions of pre-Islamic and Islamic civilizations spans 6,000 years of national history—predating the recognition of Bahrain as a sovereign nation-state in 1971. The exhibitions of ancient civilizations predating independence that is interlinked with the contemporary exhibitions aims at promoting a national identity deeply rooted in Arabic and Islamic heritage. The implications are multifarious: Firstly, the exhibitions attempts to revitalize cultural heritage that has been conveniently overlooked due to the emphasis on the implications of the ‘oil spectacle’ as established in the mainstream rentier state literature, albeit the oil reserves in Bahrain has been dwindling. Secondly, the museological display practice reinforces cultural and national unity that emanates from Arabic and Islamic roots thereby proliferating a counter narrative of sectarianism recounted in the contemporary mainstream media. Thirdly, the museological display creates a desired narrative, or alternatively ‘myth-making’, by revisiting the past glories of ancient Dilmun and Tylos civilizations and accentuating the preservation of cultural identity that spans 6,000 years. The orientalist voice projected from the perspective of the Greek and Portuguese empires during their expansion and the excavations sponsored by UNESCO adds validity to the myths created by the curators but with a ‘borrowed voice’ from Greek and Portuguese empires. To that end, my analysis borrows the concept from Charles Garoian’s notion of ‘museum as a performative site’, one that views museum as a performative theatre whereby the public memory and cultural history of the museum projected by the curators and national authority meets the private narratives of the audiences to facilitate a dialogic process. The performative dimension that creates a dissonance between the public and private narratives is integrated to dispel the myths that the archaeological artefacts photographs and waxed replicas in the Pre-Islamic Dilmun and Tylos and Islamic civilizations and the contemporary ethnographic exhibitions are attempting to articulate. The captions recount a monolithic narrative by linking the archaeological artefacts and documents of the past to the present audio and visual media to promote nationalism and cultural unity. The aim of this paper is two-fold: 1) to investigate how print and visual media in the exhibitions at Bahrain National Museum jive together and the implications of the ‘myth-making’ narratives and captions and 2) to look at the performativity between the public and private narrative across the exhibitions.