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This article examines the representations of ethnic minorities that have been constructed by three ethnic museums in Laos. It found that social, political, and economic contexts as well as the curators’ authority and attitudes have exerted crucial influences on how ethnic groups are defined and represented. The first is the Phongsali Provincial Ethnic Museum, a state museum that was established during the decline of a regime. The aim of its exhibitions was to construct Laotian national consciousness and ethnic cultures, which are portrayed as frozen and timeless. This is one of the reasons why ethnic people have been domesticated and deprived of political rights. The second is Muang Sing Ethnic Museum, Luang Namtha Province, which by contrast, was established when ethnic diversity was considered cultural property for the tourism industry. NGOs were welcome to participate in exhibit design. From their perspective, ethnic minorities were associated with poor living standards and cultural collapses resulting from policies of the previous government. The third is the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre in Luang Prabang, which was established during the time of the international movement to safeguard cultural heritage. Here ethnic culture is redefined as something precious to learn about, as heritage or resources. Collaborative work that empowers ethnic communities to represent themselves is also promoted here.
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