This article explores the context of ethnographic exhibiting, and provides a brief overview of the main impact of critical theory on the interpretation of ethnographic displays. Using a model which separates the poetics from the politics of representation, it explores how curators actively reflect these debates through analysis of an exhibition, Le musée cannibale, the aim of which was to reveal the representational artifice at the core of ethnographic exhibiting. A ‘reading’ is proposed to show how this was achieved while arguing that the success of the exhibition was a reflection of its visual and narrative power, but as importantly its ability to interpolate the audience. The article then considers what other models can be used to reinvigorate the process of exhibiting ethnographic collections. It concludes that museums need to create means by which their audiences can assume a more dynamic role in relation to the encounter at the heart of the exhibition process, namely between people, objects and meanings.
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