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December, 2022

Interculturality at play: Putting theory into practice to create polycentral and cosmopolitan international exhibitions. ACHS 2022, Santiago de Chile

International exhibitions are deeply intercultural spaces in terms of both the processes and practices through which they are produced, and their potential impact on those involved. They are also a means by which museums might represent and advance a cosmopolitan agenda on the world stage. We propose a model for developing international exhibitions based on museum practices grounded in interculturality, participation and collaboration.

Our theory of intercultural museum practice emerged from a collaborative (Mexican-New Zealand) empirical inquiry: a longitudinal, multi-sited mobile ethnography of the practice and impact of international touring exhibitions developed to represent indigenous cultures of Mexico and Aotearoa NZ to foreign audiences. Informed by theories of critical cosmopolitanism and intercultural studies, intercultural museum practice is collaborative and relational. It aspires to promote cosmopolitan outlooks in all stakeholders involved, build intercultural skills, and resolve conflicts and misunderstandings through dialogue. Applied to exhibitions, the aim is to create spaces that encourage audiences to see the world from another’s perspective, re-evaluate narratives of otherness and superficial stereotypes, and thereby better understand their own cultural perspectives. Intercultural exhibitions are concerned with self-representation, voice, and dialogic meaning-making which is polycentral and kaleidoscopic in nature: as representations of culture are constantly reinvented in accordance with on-going dialogue and the fluidity of intercultural relationships.

Reflecting on the conditions for, and meaning of, intercultural dialogue in the exhibition development process, we draw on concrete examples from our action research project to create and evaluate an exhibition about contemporary Mexico for New Zealand audiences. De la Milpa a la Mesa: A Mexican Food Journey was developed by a bi-national team of interns, museum professionals, subject experts and communities of interest using intercultural museum practice and is currently on tour throughout Aotearoa NZ.

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