Exhibiting the Nation


Today, exhibiting the nation has increasingly become a challenge of representing diversity, reflecting the museum as an important field for the politics of cultural recognition In Latin America, museums are principally financed by the state, and yet, the representation of some groups, have repeatedly been found lacking.

This article describes the history of Chile’s national museums, focusing in particular on their exhibition of indigenous cultures. Three museums are considered: the National Museum of Natural History (originally the National Museum); the National Museum of Fine Arts; and the National Museum of History. Using museum catalogues, visitor’s guides and bulletins as sources, this research traces the role given to indigenousness in the museums’ exhibitions through time. Initially, the ‘Indian’ was presented as either part of the territory conquered by Chileans, or as not part of Chilean culture at all. By the twentieth century, however, a new narrative emerged which recognizes the indigenous people as the ‘pre-historic’ inhabitants of Chile. Most recently, a more complex narrative presents Chile as a blending of races and cultures. Overall, we see that today each museum continues to see nationhood as something that is monolithic, allowing little place for indigenous people beyond mestizaje (blending of ‘races’).

Reference: Gil, Magdalena (2016) “Exhibiting the Nation: Indigenousness in Chile’s National Museums.Museum & Society Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 82-97.