The museum as artefact, made in Malaysia

Dellios, Paulette (1999) The museum as artefact, made in Malaysia. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

Museums were made in Malaysia long before Malaysia was made.

Historical, socio-political and civilisational-cultural factors are crucial to an understanding of the museum as artefact, made in Malaysia and an understanding of Malaysia as artefact, made in the museum. Hence, this study attempts an historical overview of inter-related artefactual processes: museum-making, colony-making and nation-making. These processes reveal ambiguities, paradoxes and subtleties which call for innovative strategies to overcome the epistemological stasis of museology.

The predominant museological approach has been to view all museums according to the same Eurocentric archetype. However, museums are socio-cultural artefacts and this study develops several theoretical generalisations about the nature of artefactual expression, empirically grounded in the Malaysian cultural landscape.

To argue that the museum is an 'artefact' is an appropriation of the terminology of museology but museology has yet to elaborate a conceptual position on the museum as artefact. Through a diachronic analysis of Malaysian museums, a set of recurring questions emerges which unavoidably challenges the efficacy of museology's conceptual tools.

As cultural institutions, museums may be assumed to be centrally concerned with culture. Museology seeks to comprehend culture via mutually exclusive terms such as material/non-material culture, tangible/intangible heritage, real thing/replica, movable/immovable objects, among other binary oppositions. These frames of reference are not only rejected as inappropriate to the Malaysian context but disputed as 'universal' categories of museological investigation. Museology, dominated by a Euro-American scholastic monopoly, is ideologically and conceptually ill-equipped to interpret museums in other societies.

Because the museum is an artefact and artefacts are polysemantic, it is maintained that museums in Malaysia possess an extensive repertoire of meanings. This applies to both colonial and post-colonial museums.

Museums in colonial Malaysia were composite artefacts that combined colonial ideologies and indigenous cosmologies.

Similarly, post-colonial museums in Malaysia do not simply replicate national narratives. Museums accommodate multiple and, at times, conflicting 'storylines'. These are particularly pronounced in the cultural labyrinth of national culture, Malaysian culture, popular culture, cultural tourism, and 'museal culture'.

Cultural institutions in Malaysia defy a facile congruence between museum and nation. This lack of conformity between cultural constructs is clarified through the notion of 'museal culture' which, as an interpretive medium culture-specific to the museum, reconstructs and deconstructs its artefactual domain. Inquiry into the meaning of 'artefacts', whether of objects, museums or nations, must move beyond the assumption of static entities filled with traits and qualities that are surveyed to be affirmed rather than interrogated.

In this Malaysian artefactual odyssey, both the museum and the nation are treated analytically as artefacts. They are mutually materialised and artefactually involved but the museum transacts through its interpretative filter of 'museal culture' and hence it does not, and cannot, represent the nation. The dynamic complexities of 'museal culture' are examined in Malaysia but analytical implications are not limited to Malaysian museums.

Item ID: 30988
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Malaysia; museums; cultural institutions; artefactual expression; museal culture
Date Deposited: 21 Jan 2014 02:29
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2102 Curatorial and Related Studies > 210204 Museum Studies @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9599 Other Cultural Understanding > 959999 Cultural Understanding not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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