Tuesday, 23rd January —
By Nina Bouji
If it’s true that museums are temples of knowledge, then they should be held accountable for the narratives they dispense and the stories they aim to represent. And that’s particularly relevant if we’re talking about the Louvre Abu Dhabi—costing $108 million to build and $503 million to franchise the Louvre’s name—if anything, just because thousands of visitors stroll through its art and artefacts daily.
The museum, which is the first to bring the Louvre name outside France, is the result of “(…) an unprecedented initiative that laid the groundwork for a new type of cultural collaboration of unparalleled scope between two countries, centered on the creation of a national institution.” As the institution itself wrote in a statement prior to the opening in November. The museum—despite its focus on art (not politics)—is far from being an institution detached from international geopolitical dynamics.
After being scrutinised by the international press for the debatable conditions of the workers who have built the majestic architectural home of the museum, running 5 years overtime in construction, a new controversy has sparked after the circulation of an image showing one of the museum’s maps of the southern Arabian Gulf omitting the Qatari peninsula.
Considering the recent diplomatic crisis between the United Arab Emirates and Qatar (since June 5 2017, the UAE alongside Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt have been boycotting Qatar, claiming it was supporting Islamist extremist groups), such an ‘oversight’ could be easily misinterpreted. Despite the museum’s denial of any political agenda behind the map (which has now been replaced and sits comfortably next to other maps throughout the museum that do include Qatar), it's understandable that Louvre's inaccuracy could be perceived as alarming.
Some—including Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs—have spoken out against the exaggeration of the issue, and in such a hypersensitive media moment, there might be some truth in Gargash’s comment. Yet, the erasure of states and the redefinition of borders within geopolitical maps is an tactic that has been repeatedly used in history as a means of soft power. This agency has been used by nations to publicise their stance towards enemy states. Whether in agreement or not with Qatar's policy, or if the Louvre's incorrect map was intentional, it's important to remain alert to every time a cultural institution, accidentally or not, wipes away a country from a map.