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Title: An investigation into the exhibition of Buddhist objects in British museums.
Authors: Chuang, Yiao-hwei.
Award date: 1993
Presented at: University of Leicester
Abstract: This work gives an overview of Buddhist material culture in British museums. It first attempts to be a comprehensive study of the objects. It also examines Buddhists' impressions upon using their objects in displays. Displays and interpretations are rarely constant and neutral. They reflect merely a viewpoint from a specific angle. There are, however, many other valid interpretations about an object. An identical object has different significances under different contexts. Nowadays, community people play an increasing role in the whole processes of the work of a museum. Museums should reflect this fact in their approaches. The study discusses such issues: the nature, common characteristics, specific characteristics, symbolic messages, provenance, surviving threats, displays, interpretations, themes, communities, misunderstandings, misplacements, and suggestions for improving the use of these objects. In addition to analyse the merits and shortcomings of displays, the study also explores new insights into the objects. As visual expressions of a living spiritual heritage, the objects are not dead relics. Instead, emanating timeless messages of Buddhism, the objects are relevant to the human condition today. Besides, being displayed as solid objects, they signify intangible truths. They are meant to help people to know more about themselves and the world in which they are living. It is a challenge to museums to decode their in-depth significance rather than their outside features to viewers. The relevance of the objects should be re-interpreted in this social cultural context. Objects housed in museums are for men rather than vice versa. A person should look forward rather than backward. Thus, the study also explores the relevance of the objects in this multicultural society. Buddhism has become an integral part of British culture. Its objects are no longer exotic rarities. Far from being the antique specimens of many dead civilisations, the objects still articulate vividly the perennial realities of wisdom and compassion. They are more than aesthetic arts. Displays ignoring the spiritual dimensions of the objects would be expressing an injustice to them. The messages embodied in these objects can not only enrich the content of a culture but can also widen one's vision. Museums should use them to transcend the division and barriers of different beliefs. Above all, the study proposes conception-oriented themes to find a common ground for dialogue, comparison and communication among different beliefs and cultures. As 'religion' is a dangerous topic, many museums dare not take the risk of being criticised by displaying religious themes. They usually tackle the objects as aesthetic arts. Besides, many displays have not explored the connection of the objects to the general public. This kind of trite approach seems unable to kindle the curiosity and imagination of viewers. The study attempts to explore other alternative options for using them. In this interdependent world, mutual understanding and mutual respect become more important. Men should seek common ground for co-operation rather than for discrimination, division or conflict. Through sympathetic approaches, e.g. take the viewpoints of the original makers and owners of these objects, museums can contribute to peace and harmony in society.
Type: Thesis
Level: Doctoral
Qualification: Ph.D.
Rights: Copyright © the author. All rights reserved.
Appears in Collections:Theses, School of Museum Studies
Leicester Theses

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