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On Exhibiting Transnational Mobilities: Museum Display Decisions in “Gold Cloths of Sumatra”

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Abstract

Scholarship on the new “mobilities” paradigm from sociology and cultural geography has much to offer anthropologist curators and other museum professionals seeking to conceptualize and design exhibitions on ritual objects that are “on the move”—that is, ceremonial things such as Sumatran textiles (the focus here) that have long histories of crossing ethnic group, social class, and national borders. These ritual goods are often crucial sites for constructing both “indigeneity” and national identities through aesthetic references to imagined pasts. These ceremonial goods also carry symbolic weight as collectible art within widely internationalized circuits of exchange among major collectors and museums. These objects' travels through these realms of value and renown make them eminently open to mobilities research approaches—and to exhibition designs shaped by that literature. This essay offers a case study of a college gallery exhibition on gold thread songket textiles whose display design was inspired by mobilities research. [mobilities paradigm, exhibition design, textiles, Southeast Asia]

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