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The Museum on the Roof of the World

Art, Politics, and the Representation of Tibet

For millions of people around the world, Tibet is a domain of undisturbed tradition, the Dalai Lama a spiritual guide. By contrast, the Tibet Museum opened in Lhasa by the Chinese in 1999 was designed to reclassify Tibetan objects as cultural relics and the Dalai Lama as obsolete. Suggesting that both these views are suspect, Clare E. Harris argues in The Museum on the Roof of the World that for the past one hundred and fifty years, British and Chinese collectors and curators have tried to convert Tibet itself into a museum, an image some Tibetans have begun to contest. This book is a powerful account of the museums created by, for, or on behalf of Tibetans and the nationalist agendas that have played out in them.
 
Harris begins with the British public’s first encounter with Tibetan culture in 1854. She then examines the role of imperial collectors and photographers in representations of the region and visits competing museums of Tibet in India and Lhasa. Drawing on fieldwork in Tibetan communities, she also documents the activities of contemporary Tibetan artists as they try to displace the utopian visions of their country prevalent in the West, as well as the negative assessments of their heritage common in China. Illustrated with many previously unpublished images, this book addresses the pressing question of who has the right to represent Tibet in museums and beyond.

328 pages | 19 color plates, 50 halftones, 1 line drawing | 7 x 10 | © 2012

Buddhism and Modernity

Art: Middle Eastern, African, and Asian Art

Asian Studies: General Asian Studies

Religion: South and East Asian Religions

Reviews

“Oxford anthropologist Harris provides a highly readable discussion of the ways in which political power has shaped perceptions of Tibet and its material culture, and how contemporary Tibetans are appropriating the ‘soft power’ of art as a political tool. . . . Highly recommended.”

Choice

“Written with elegance, clarity and passionate objectivity . . . Harris takes us from skull drums and thangkas to New Buddhism and the world of contemporary Tibetan artists at home and in exile, explicating the crisis of Tibetan identity and culture. Harris gives us a highly focused contribution to the discourse on the postcolonial world that is also a pleasure to read.” 

ArtAsiaPacific

“Clare Harris’s works are consistently novel and full of unique ironic twists and marvelous insight, a treat for the world-weary on roads far too traveled. Innovation and creativity are rare in modern Tibet studies, so it is with eager anticipation that one should always approach Harris’s writings. The reader of The Museum on the Roof of the World will not be disappointed. She is as magical in this book as reindeer flying through the skies and as entertaining as Santa squeezing through the chimney.”

Asian Ethnologist

“Harris’ account of Tibetan contemporary art is by far the most comprehensive and incisive published to date. . . . The Museum on the Roof of the World is a book that richly rewards the reader, including those who have made it their business to study Tibet, its history, and its culture, with new and fascinating insights.”

Numen

The Museum on the Roof of the World is a welcome addition to the literature on museums and nationalism, and makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of how the leadership of the modern Chinese state used European imperialist techniques, like building museums, to gain control of the multi-ethnic Qing territories.”

newbooks.asia

“Exceptionally original and superlative in terms of the sheer range of its research materials, the sensitivity of its approach and content, the nuanced style of the writing, and its contributions to various theoretical concerns. . . . Harris’s book is a remarkable work that reveals how one state and its culture can have changing and even multiple identities when placed in different national and political contexts over time.”

Art Bulletin

“A fascinating study of how Tibet’s art and imagery was pressed into the service of two imperial powers, Britain and Communist China, to provide the rationalizations for their respective ‘missions civilisatrice’ into Tibet—the Younghusband expedition of 1904, and China’s ‘Peaceful Liberation’ of 1950 and ongoing occupation. Clare E. Harris’s instructive art history does not lack in entertaining anecdotes and arcana, of which ‘the Skull of Confucius’ alone is worth the price of the book.”

Jamyang Norbu, author of Mandala of Sherlock Holmes and Shadow Tibet

The Museum on the Roof of the World overturns old stereotypes, makes new discoveries, and is filled with insights about the many sad ironies in the historical experience of Tibet between the late eighteenth century and the present. Clare E. Harris knows Tibet, its history and culture, contemporary life of Tibetans in exile, and Tibetans still in the Tibet Autonomous Region. She strikes a wonderful balance between generalized observations and detailed explication, successfully documenting the aims of Tibetan museums and revealing the dubious claims of ownership of Tibetan art. Well illustrated and accessible, this book will appeal to audiences in critical museology, Tibetology, history of photography, anthropology, and postcolonial studies.”

Robert Linrothe, Northwestern University

“In The Museum on the Roof of the World, Clare E. Harris provides a coherent, wonderfully readable, gripping account of the modern encounter with Tibet, in which she brings together a wealth of detail couched in a rhetorical framework of postcolonialist anthropology and museology. This is an important, original book with a timely focus.”

Patricia Berger, University of California, Berkeley

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction
1  The Tibet Museum in the West
2  The Younghusband Mission and Tibetan Art
3  Picturing Tibet for the Imperial Archive
4  Photography and the Politics of Memory
5  The Tibet Museum in Exile
6  The Tibet Museum in Lhasa
7  The Invention of Tibetan Contemporary Art
8  The Buddha Goes Global

Acknowledgments
A Note on Languages
Notes
References
Index

Awards

Association for Asian Studies: E. Gene Smith Book Prize
Won

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