The Palestinian Museum: The Dynamics of Institutionalization and Palestinian Emancipatory Politics

By Hannah Scott Deuchar
Submitted to Session P4179 (Sovereignty, Historiography, and Visual Culture in Middle Eastern Museums, 2015 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
Cultural Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The Palestinian Museum: The Dynamics of Institutionalization and Palestinian Emancipatory Politics

The Palestinian Museum is currently being built opposite Birzeit University near Ramallah in the West Bank. Its location is significant: the Israel Museum is similarly situated next to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the capital city in which the Palestinian Museum officials have stated that they would prefer the nascent museum to be located were it not for the fact that the current political situation makes this impossible. This physical positioning, as well as the museum’s aesthetic as expressed in its textual and visual publications, are designed to set the Palestinian Museum up as a national museum that is simultaneously ‘traditional’,rooted in Palestinian history and landscape, and ‘modern’, capable of operating in the international art world. The Museum’s self-described mission is the preservation of threatened Palestinian heritage, promotion of ‘dialogue’ and the exploration of diverse, alternative (and inherently, counter-) narratives of Palestinian history. In presenting itself simultaneously as a site of resistance and as a conventional public establishment, however, the museum risks accomplishing either.

This paper will examine how the Palestinian Museum navigates its intrinsic contradictions as it attempts to establish itself as both a trusted vehicle for the expression of Palestinian ‘narratives and identities’, and as an internationally legible and competitive cultural institution. Specifically, I will analyze the visual and textual material produced by the museum over the past two years in order to address the processes by which it repackages itself, its political message, and the particular Palestinian population it proposes to represent in order to navigate the international museum world. The nascent Palestinian Museum is a locus of conflicting claims, and crystallizes the shifting implications and limitations of the museum form. This in turn offers an opportunity to consider broader questions about how liberation and resistance movements are institutionalized and even monetized, and whether there are contexts in which institutions of any kind can challenge this.