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The British Museum, in London, shows “superior” European artwork, or at least what people believe. According to Preziosi’s The Art of Art History, the British museum is an institution that creates “national mythologies”, in which artwork from cultures all around the world are displayed. However, Preziosi notes the partition between “refined” European and “crude” non-European art as “indigenous African art”, “African art”, etc. It is notable that the moment ancient artwork is found, it goes straight to the museum where artwork is not part of indigenous history, but instead as treated as a new ‘discovery’. There is an inherent feeling of eurocentrism through the marginalization of other non-European cultures, and thus it prompts the question: To what extent does the British museum demonstrate Western superiority over all other “exotic” and “primitive” cultures? To answer this we will use Lois Tyson’s “Postcolonial Criticism.” Tyson claims that western cultures see themselves as the center of the world. So first, we must outline Tyson’s tenets; second, apply them to the British Museum; before finally drawing two critical implications.
First, “denigration of native cultures.” Tyson argues that people in cultures other than the dominant one are abused for their difference in culture. Second, “narrow framework for universal standards.” Tyson argues that the dominance of western cultures creates a standard in physical appearance and linguistics. Today, there is a cultural gap in which the western standards are considered universal. Third, “inherent privilege of Nordic features.” Tyson argues that people with physical features associated with Northern Germanic countries are considered genetically superior in intelligence, strength and beauty. Today, people with those features are granted a subconscious societal advantage. Fourth, “supremacy of English language.” Tyson argues that the dominance of European cultures causes English to be the universal language, and people who speak English are granted the greatest societal advantage. Fifth, “the superiority of European values.” Tyson argues that the supremacy of European cultures gives an advantage to European values. Today, Nordic features and English give an advantage to those that have them.
With this understanding of Tyson’s model, we can now analyze how the British museum highlights or contradicts these elements of Eurocentrism. First, “denigration of native cultures.” The British museum displays artwork from non-European cultures such as Africa as “tribal”, “uncultured”, or “primitive”. The negative connotations associated with “tribal” imply that art produced by any non-European cultures is unrefined, thereby disapproving of non-European cultures. Thus, the British museum does fulfill Tyson’s first tenet. Second, “narrow framework for universal standards.” Through the classification of cultural art, the British museum implies that all people in specific non-European cultures create art that share the same characteristics, thus, fulfilling Tyson’s second tenet. Finally, “the superiority of European values.” In implying that European art is more “sophisticated” and “refined” than non European cultures, the British museum creates a framework that holds European art above non-European art. The implication that European art is superior gives their art a subconscious advantage, thus, fulfilling Tyson’s final tenet.
After analyzing the British museum in light of Eurocentrism, we must now return to today’s research question: To what extent does the British museum demonstrate Western superiority over all other “exotic” and “primitive” cultures? Through the neat partitioning of European art and non-European art, the British museum gives a subconscious advantage to European art with the association to “refined” and “cultured”. This disregards the egalitarian place for art that are supposed to be in museums. As a result, we can turn to critical implications. First, in regarding European and western art as more remarkable, the British museum sends a message that other cultures are a tradition instead of being equal to European art, separating different cultures instead of blending them together. Next, because of the dominance of eurocentric ideals, the majority of society considers non-European artwork as “ugly”, contributing to the pre-programmed notions that end up dividing cultures. After analyzing Tyson’s tenets and how they apply to the British Museum, it is clear that eurocentric ideals still exist in the world today and manifest themselves even in the most unlikely ways. We must be aware of this and work towards limiting the amount of separation between cultures.
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