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Book: Archaeology, Politics and Islamicate Cultural Heritage in Europe

Chapter: 13. From "Islamic Art" to "Muslim Heritage": The Display of Islam in Museums of Europe and Beyond

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.36084


This chapter critically surveys the exhibition of Islamic material and visual culture in museums of Europe from Medieval times to the present.2 Until the late 20th century, the terms ‘Islamic’ and ‘Muslim’ were used interchangeably in museums as umbrella taxonomies attached to art, architecture and material culture manufactured in Muslim-dominant countries, mentally situated outside of Europe and constructed as inherently alien to its cultural production. In this period, since the 1970s, transformations in the social sciences and new consideration for cultural diversity, have led to a reconsideration of this cultural dichotomy, especially in art museums, with curators and archaeologists considering Islamic material culture and archaeological remains as intra-European heritage, and, more recently, as part and parcel of ‘national heritage’, in an attempt to mitigate Islamophobia. This re-evaluation is happening hand-in-hand with a surge of Muslim-led museum projects. I argue that in these museums, Islamic collections are exhibited as living diasporic heritage, revealing new transcultural spaces of contact which pushes against previous understandings of the category ‘Islamic’ in museums.

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