Tag Archives: Oriental Other

Sacred Spaces: Imperial Archives & Temples of Empire

I am not really one to blow my own trumpet, but it is sometimes helpful to let people know I play. (Note how there is no similar turn of phrase for the ukulele… more’s the pity).

Anyhow, this weekend I am speaking at a conference on “Sacred Spaces” in London; it follows on from my lecture at the British Museum a couple of months ago and will expand on some of the subjects I touched on there.

According to the blurb: This conference will bring together some of the foremost active researchers on Tibetan religion, geography, art and culture to discuss the notions of what makes places and objects sacred. Practical demonstrations of yogic exercises and meditational dance under the guidance of leading practitioners will take place on the second day.

The talks and ensuing discussions will focus on a variety of topics; how a place may be intrinsically sacred through its geomantic or geographical attributes and how sacredness may also be created or embraced by consecration and propitiatory rites. Sacred landscapes and mandala art will also be examined in depth.

I will again be looking at looting and at how the British officers and men of the 1904 Mission to Tibet were attempting to construct scared spaces back at home through their collections. I call these Imperial Archives or Temples of Empire, filled with classically Orientalist bits and bobs. In terms of this ‘Oriental Other,’ Edward Said has noted that, “from the end of the eighteenth century there emerged a complex Orient suitable for study for display in the museum, for reconstruction in the colonial office, for theoretical illustration in anthropological, biological, linguistic, racial, and historical theses about mankind and the universe.”

I think that by collecting objects from Tibet the Edwardian officers and men consciously and subconsciously sought to emphasize the differences between both their own, and the state they represented’s, ordered, civilized, rational self, and Tibet’s backward, religious, oppressed and flawed, ‘Other.’ This could be achieved best by collecting and presenting items to museums that stereotypically encompassed Tibet; items made from human bones, monastic paraphernalia, medieval military equipment, and ‘primitive’ possessions.

The British officers and collectors likewise assured their place in our common historical conscience; collections seek to anchor us in space and time. Crane explains, “being collected means being valued and remembered institutionally; being displayed means being incorporated into the extra-institutional memory of the museum visitors.”

Find more details of tickets and the whole programme at:




Filed under Tibetology, Timology