"Get Ready to See Humanity in a New Light": Politics of Display at the "Louvre in the Sands"

By: Louise Ryan  

This paper investigates the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates based on empirical data gathered at the museum during 2018-2019. With consideration of the wider picture (debates, heritage/museum traditions, Saadiyat island project) and the specific case study (museum architecture, gallery spaces, displays, tours, textual sources), three main questions are posed. Firstly, are the displays and narratives at the Louvre Abu Dhabi focusing on universality, storytelling, aesthetics and materiality, minimizing or ignoring important contested and controversial histories? Secondly, whose stories are represented in these spaces, and are they inclusive places attracting local, national, and international audiences alike? Lastly, how are audiences reacting to these displays in the tri-dimensional exhibition space of the object, accompanying rhetoric and visitor? Analysis and conclusions argue that although this nascent museum has attracted record crowds since its 2017 opening, there is a need for more complex narratives that include historical conflicts, geopolitical perspectives, and alternate viewpoints to achieve its vision to be a progressive institution that engages diverse audiences via thought-provoking displays promoting discovery and cross-cultural understanding.

Art, Museums, Emirates, Display, Controversy, Histories, Storytelling, Audience, Inclusion, Identity
The Arts in Social, Political, and Community Life
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Louise Ryan

Adjunct Fellow, Research Associate, Institute Associate, School of Social Sciences and Psychology/Institute for Culture and Society, Australia