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Art and Ambiguity: An Extended Review of Border Zones at the Museum of Anthropology, British Columbia



In the last decade, an emphasis on aesthetics has become a prominent strategy for ethnographic museums that try to sever their connections to a history of colonialism and to overcome the dilemmas and difficulties involved in representing societies and cultures that are different from their own. Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, aesthetics and art are projected as being intuitively understandable—a common ground where the politics of representation can be avoided. This article reviews the exhibition entitled Border Zones: New Art Across Cultures, which is a temporary exhibition that, following a lengthy rebuilding period, opened at the Museum of Anthropology (MoA) in Vancouver in 2010. In this article, I attempt to situate the exhibition within the MoA's own “exhibitionary narrative” and within a landscape of contemporary art. I argue that Border Zones represents a continuity with the MoA's permanent exhibitions but question the extent to which it lives up to the MoA's own vision of “multiversity” or a critical museology based on the need to deconstruct the pretensions of Western science. [ethnographic museums, aesthetics, primitivism, Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia]