Museums and heritage politics in contemporary South Asia

Panel organised by: Kanika Singh (Ashoka University, Sonepat, India)

Panel description

This panel explores the heritage politics of contemporary South Asian societies deployed through the institution of the museum. The region of South Asia has a history, simultaneously, of a shared culture, and of competing interests among its constituting national and social groups. Many areas within South Asia have shared political and cultural histories through pre-colonial and colonial times. This was followed by emergence of independent nation-states in the 20th century, on the basis of ethnic and religious identities. In postcolonial South Asia, some countries retained monarchical rule and others became republics. How are these relationships manifest in the region’s museums? How did the South Asian countries envision their respective ‘national’ museums? How were museums used to forge new and distinct national identities and heritages? What aspects of a nation’s history were glorified and which memories suppressed? This needs to be especially discussed in relation to varying representations (or the lack thereof) of the region’s common past, for instance, the Buddhist heritage in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and India, the Islamic past shared by Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and the Partition of 1947.

We also examine museums in context of contemporary identity politics within the South Asian countries. Within each nation-state, the idea of a ‘national’ heritage has been increasingly challenged by different communities and regional groups who have gone on to create their own museums, sometimes invoking their shared heritage across regions and nations. Which museums in contemporary South Asia challenge the national narrative of their respective nation-states, and how? Who is building these and why? How are museums used to meet the aspirations of both the dominant and the marginalised (nations and groups) in an increasingly globalised and neoliberal world? This panel examines the dynamic ways in which regional, national and local histories, politics, identities interact in the institution of the museum.

Paper proposal

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