9 July 2004


Following Brian’s travels through Morocco, I ran into this interesting bit from his visit to Marrakesh that relates to exhibition design:

“Captions [in the Museum of Moroccan Art] were available in both French and Arabic. I originally thought I would be able to understand almost everything from my knowledge of the two languages; however, I quickly discovered a flaw in this plan: The explanations were often different.

For example, in discussing a particular musical style, the French caption talked about how it was derived from Greek forms, while the Arabic explained it as going back to the Abbasid court at Baghdad. Both of these could be true - the people at the Abbasid court could have developed it from Greek forms, but the targeted cultural bias of the information presented is an interested insight into the way the tourist industry operates. I once read an article about how tour guides in Israel change what they highlight and the style of their presentation based on the group they are guiding. The Museum of Moroccan Art in Marrakesh seems to unabashedly post written evidence of this as Arab and European tourists wander through having the information presented in a context which affirms their own culture’s past.”

Brian’s interpretation notwithstanding, he’s on to something: given Morocco’s privileged geography between continents and at the nexus of so many trade routes among regions and empires, I suspect its traditional forms were influenced by very many cultural traditions, long before the histories were spun so neatly into “East” and “West.”

Given that the curators are clearly aware of this, it’s all the more interesting that they choose to present the two distinct narratives rather than a more nuanced account of cultural exchange.