Lost in Translation

Exhibiting locality is a balancing act: Between presentation and mediation, between elicitation and contextualization, between two cultures. The exhibition “Marina Tabassum Architects: In Bangladesh” at the Architecture Museum Munich tries to avoid this throughout, but as a result, bears witness to this struggle all the more. As the first solo exhibition of an Asian female architect at this institution, the project is inherently remarkable—and also advertised this way. But in order to reach beyond labels of gender and ethnicity, and to emphasize the work, content—stories, programs, materials, explanations—is key. 

The three large halls at the Architecture Museum showcase projects by MTA, mostly in the form of photographs and accompanying texts on neutral colored walls. Eye-catching, though, are the large mock-ups of dwelling constructions and the presentation of regional building materials. Taking up much of the airy exhibition space, these life-sized models bring to life what the countless photographs cannot: a spatial experience, and, therefore, a tiny glimpse into architectural practice, as titled, in Bangladesh.

Surprisingly, these elements lack any explanation. Where audiences in South Asia probably wouldn’t need any, Munich visitors need them all the more. While decorated with sparse furniture, clay vases, and animal sculptures, the models risk to transform into scenes the local public knows from dated “world heritage” or “ethnographic” museums: By not providing any context, the objects are auratized and ultimately re-naturalized.

The exhibition’s curators, mainly Marina Tabassum herself, could have presented their expertise and craft in the translation of her work, but shied away from it, which is understandable prima facie: Why explain cultural differences when we no longer want to emphasize them? Or, do we? Here, the aspiration tips over, the specificity of a local context is lost and, unfortunately, pushed further away into the zones of “otherness.”



Marina Tabassum Architects: In Bangladesh

Architekturmuseum der TUM, Munich



curated by Marina Tabassum (with Simone Bader)

exhibition design by Marina Tabassum Architects