SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Asia and Africa On Display

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1
This module will complement the aims and objectives of the MA Curating Cultures degree by providing teaching which focuses on the physical spaces for works of art/artefacts across cultures. It will also be object based, providing students studying any region with transferable skills. It will further use a wide range of displayed objects, including those in SOAS collections and the Brunei Gallery as the primary teaching resource. It will thus provide students of the MA Curating Cultures programme with direct experience of diverse contemporary and historical display practices in museums, galleries and commercial spaces, as well as digital modes of display.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The aims and objectives of this course are as follows:
  • To enable students to develop an understanding of the methods, practices and key issues associated with the presentation of objects from outside the European tradition in transcultural museum spaces.
  • To introduce students to critical approaches to object analysis and exhibition development.
  • To provide an environment in which students can consider and evaluate the concepts and language of cultural representation.
  • To enable students to consider the historic reception of non-Western visual culture in Europe.
  • To encourage students to develop their own research and professional interests in the area of Asian and African art/visual culture.
At the end of the course, students should be able to demonstrate the following learning outcomes:
  • The development of object analysis and interpretation skills.
  • Acquire knowledge and understanding of critical concepts of reception, presentation and
  • An understanding of issues associated with culturally defined categories of objects.
  • An ability to evaluate critically museum exhibitions and their interpretative frameworks.

Scope and syllabus

Over 10 weeks the module will introduce key critical concepts and contemporary/historical practices as they relate to specific objects on display in a range of different locations, covering the following or similar topics each year:

  • Week 1 - Introduction to exhibitions and display with special reference to non-Western visual culture.
  • Week 2 - Transculturaltion – acquisition and loss.
  • Week 3 - Reception, Identity and cultural representation.
  • Week 4 – Museum and exhibition spaces and politics of display.
  • Week 5 - Approaches to object analysis.
  • Week 6 - Presentations by students on selected objects for study.
  • Week 7 - Collecting and appropriation.
  • Week 8 - Taxonomies and categories.
  • Week 9 - Interpretation and historiography.
  • Week 10 - Two Histories: at home and new spaces.

Method of assessment

  • One 1,000-word display report (worth 40%)
  • One 2,000-word research essay (worth 60%)

Suggested reading

The core text for this course will be:

Ivan Karp and Steven D. Levine, eds., Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, Smithsonian, 1999.

Further key readings will include:
  • A. Contadini, ed., Objects of Instruction: Treasures of SOAS, SOAS, 2007.
  • Clifford, ‘On Collecting Art and Culture’, in James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature and Art, (Cambridge/London, 1988).
  • M. E. Simpson, Making Representations: Museums in the Post-Colonial Age, 2001.
  • Warren Cohen, East Asian Art and American Culture: A Study in International Relations, (New York, 1992).
  • C. B. Steiner, African Art in Transit, Cambridge, 1993.
  • P. Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters: History of European Reactions to Indian Art, Oxford, 1977.
  • S. Pearce, Museums, Objects and Collections: A Cultural Study, Leicester/London, 1992.
  • J. Elkins, ed., Is Art History Global?, Routledge, 2007.
  • H. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, Routledge, 1994.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules