Crossing Over: Museums as Spaces of Violence
This article focuses on an increasingly common phenomenon: the exhibition on violence or trauma that evokes excessively strong reactions in visitors. Popular contemporary museum practices contribute to such responses. The first is the valorisation of the ‘difficult’ exhibition without sufficient consideration of the ways in which it is challenging or of the identities of its targets. The desire to foster empathy within institutions or individuals, which seems benign, also involves risks and limitations. We lack hard evidence of empathy’s benefits as a museum strategy, and particularly of whether it stimulates activism. Indeed, immersive exhibitions that succeed in engaging audiences in individual stories may not instigate systemic change; in terms of gender, they may focus on a particular woman’s suffering but not on global gender inequity. These excesses of violence and trauma wrought on gendered bodies may leave visitors despondent and unsettled. As a result, the gallery, promoted as a liberatory ‘third’ space of inclusion, may be perceived as confining or oppressive. To explain this paradox, I deploy James Giles’s theory of Fourthspace, using my experience viewing Carlos Motta’s installation on LGBTQI+ immigrants in the Netherlands at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 2017 as a case study. While offering prescriptive solutions is not my primary aim, I briefly discuss possible solutions.
Activism, Difficult knowledge, Empathy, Fourthspace, Gender, LGBTQI+, Museums, Queer, Third space/place
Levin, Amy K., "Crossing Over: Museums as Spaces of Violence" (2020). NIU Bibliography. 308.
Department of English