Museums are institutions of European origin that appeared in their modern form during the 18th century. In "the Gulf", a region whose boundaries are rarely defined but which corresponds mainly to the countries of the Arabian peninsula with an access to the Persian Gulf, the first museums were founded by local merchants in Kuwait in 1957 and 1964. They belonged to the same dynamics that had seen the creation of the first "modern schools" (al-madaris al-haditha) and "cultural clubs" (al-andiya al-thaqafiyya) as early as the 1920s, long before the start of the oil era and the perspective of a British colonial withdrawal in the 1960s. But it is in the 1970s, with Bahrain as a birthplace, that a regional model of "heritage museums" (matahif al-turath), now often equated with "national museums" (al-matahif al-wataniyya), was born. Those "heritage museums" reflected a definition of Arab identity different from the one adopted earlier in Kuwait at the initiative of pan-Arab anticolonial merchants. If "heritage museums" managed to respond to the political needs of the modern states in Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE from 1970 to 1991, they failed to face the challenges of a new political order generated by the Second Gulf War (1990-1991), which opened the door for the rise of a new type of museums in Qatar and Abu Dhabi, that I propose to call mirror-museums.

This lecture is part of the workshop The loudest muttering is over led by Resident Professor Walid Raad, and taking place from January 5 - 16 as part of HWP 2014-15: Setups / Situations / Institutions.

The lecture is open to the public.

Alexandre Kazerouni is a French political scientist trained in Paris at Sciences Po, the Institute of Political Studies of Paris, where he is currently teaching and conducting research activities, after a postdoc at Stanford University. He is a Research Associate at CERI, Sciences Po’s center devoted to international studies and research. He defended his doctoral thesis on museums in the Arab principalities of the Persian Gulf in November 2013. Entitled The Mirror of the Sheikhs, it will be published at Presses Universitaires de France in 2015.