National Museums and the Public Imagination: Expectations of the Blockade - Year Two Workshop

The international workshop in year two of the research project was a joint effort between Dr Alexandra Bounia, a Senior Lecturer at UCL-Qatar, and Dr Karen Exell, the research project’s LPI. The workshop took place over two days on the 8th and 9th May 2018. This was a closed workshop where only the presenters, research team members, and a limited number of invitees attended. The first day, entitled “The Ethics of Collecting Trauma: What is the role of museums in recording and displaying contemporary events?” brought an international perspective to the analysis of museums here in Qatar, with several speakers from Europe, North America, Australia, as well as Qatar. The second day, entitled “National Museums and the Public Imagination: Expectations of the blockade” had the vantage point of presenting national museums in their local dimension, and specifically the Qatari context. The mix of the global and the local, both in terms of topics discussed as well as presenters, allowed for a critical, constructive, and reflective discussion of the various and diverse research projects presented, and offered participants insightful feedback on their upcoming or future publications.  

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The Ethics of Collecting Trauma raised, and to some extent answered, questions on the role of museums and public cultural institutions in including politically charged and ideologically loaded displays, and equally important the ethical issues or dilemmas underlying these processes. The presentations tackled topics ranging from terrorism in the UK/Europe, the WWI poppy symbolism, human rights museums, refugees and immigrants, to the significance and signification of imperial statues.

The Public Museums and National Imagination, which was the contribution of this project’s research team, dealt with how contemporary political issues, specifically the blockade imposed on Qatar, may be represented in a national museum, while considering the vast complexities and inter-relationships of the Arab Gulf region and the Arab region more broadly. This exploration began with a vantage point of Dr Karen Exell as someone researching the museum from the outside in terms of public perceptions, and from the inside as a senior consultant at the National Museum of Qatar. The presentations that followed  explored and analysed some of these complexities by looking at issues ranging from the distinctions between national and ethnic identity in Qatar, the interplay between an ethnic Qatari identity and an emerging civic/political identity through conflict, how Qataris and expatriates ethically, culturally, and politically view the representation of the blockade in the museum, to the representation in the national museum of the abandoned camels between Qatar and Saudi Arabia at the start of the blockade.  

A full list of speakers, their bios, and presentation titles can be found in the workshop booklet below.