By Amalie Glimø Christensen and Anna Gerda Nielsen
When visiting David’s Collection as part of the course on ‘Cultural Encounters and Differences’ we got an experience that we did not expect. Our research on the museum beforehand of entering it has given us an idea of what we were about to see, but we were surprised of what we actually learned by being shown the artwork and the use of the museum. We found it very interesting the way Daniella, the curator at David’s Collection, chose to do her guided tour. First, we learned that David’s Collection was simply a collection of beautiful art and did not focus on its potential religious meaning or national origin. Daniella then told us that this separation was hard to maintain, and that these aspects are not to be kept apart.
Daniella is head of the educational programs at the museum, where she usually twice a day has guided tours for students mostly from elementary and high schools. We found that her approach to the tour and the education of the students was an interesting way to deal with the subject of religion and how it is hard to separate the art’s origin and use from its appearance.
Clearly, Daniella was passionate about using the museum and its art as a way to give a different perspective, view and understanding of the religion of Islam when the theme of religion came up during a tour. During her tour, she gave us examples of how she includes the students and asks to their knowledge about the art they are presented to. When telling them about the origin and purpose, she was often asked questions about the religion the art represents.
During our tour, she frequently gave examples of experiences she has had with students during the educational tours she manages. The younger students ask many questions giving their opinion or raising questions without any filter; for example, a student asked her if he was allowed to be in the exhibition even though he was not a Muslim. Another student had asked her to stop speaking Arabic when she was reading a line from the art, because it scared the student hearing what another student called “ISIS-language”. Some students came with negative comments on Islam in general, which Daniella identified as being the outcome of the representation of Islam in the media and the news etc. She wants to challenge these perspectives by asking questions and thereby drawing some parallels between current day and the past while also trying to give a more neutral non-threatening view on the religion of Islam than the students are presented with through the media – and she does that through the art she presents the students for. It was obvious that her own education in minority studies was useful for her in these situations, and that she wanted to bring in her learnings in these situations.
Daniella also made it clear to us that she wasn’t there to give the students a positive view on Islam, nor a negative, or to give them a lesson on religion in general. She actually said she as an ethnic Danish woman sometimes felt out of place giving knowledge of a minority religion to Danish students. She expressed that she has had many internal discussions with herself about whether it is her place to represent the religion of Islam, through the art. Even though she is at the museum to present art during the educational tours, we think, after the experience we had, that her work gives more than an understanding of beautiful artwork and its history. Daniella gives the students, as she also gave us, a different view on religion and religious comparisons that we did not have before, and thereby we learned more than we expected.