Nicola Levell

Associate Professor

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Master's Student Supervision (2010-2017)
Becoming and being at the crossroads : challenging borders at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (2017)

This paper explores how the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) creates exhibitions on conditions associated with globalization, such as transnationalism and migration. This has been a particular focus of the museum since the completion of an expansion project, officially titled “A Partnership of Peoples” (2006-2010), which sought to establish MOA as an internationally renowned museum of world art and culture. Guided by art historian Saloni Mathur’s question, “what kind of ideological work is sustained by [a] particular notion of the ‘global’?” this paper explores how MOA portrays an increasingly globalized world through exhibitions, as well as the “work” these exhibitions accomplish on both a discursive level and the level of individual viewers. These topics are explored through the analysis of two temporary exhibitions: Border Zones: New Art Across Cultures (2010) and Safar/Voyage: Contemporary Art by Arab, Iranian and Turkish Artists (2013). In addition to focusing on the selection and arrangement of particular works in the gallery space, this paper examines the discourses used to speak about the “work” done by each exhibition. When combined with theories of performativity, embodiment, and narrativity, this discursive analysis demonstrates how these exhibitions opened up pathways for viewers to participate in the exhibition space and become certain types of global subjects. Through examining the discourses employed in each exhibition and the pathways they opened for viewers, this paper argues that both Border Zones and Safar/Voyage created translocal spaces in which viewers were encouraged to become crossroads. The tension between local and global embodied by the concepts of the crossroads and translocalism is also a tension that reflects MOA as a whole. Ultimately, this paper calls for greater attentiveness to the borders that may be unintentionally reconstructed by the discourses applied to exhibitions on conditions of globalization.

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