september, 2015

22sep14:15- 16:25Panel 3. Difficult HeritagePolitics of Display14:15 - 16:25 Dobra 56/66, 00-312 WarszawaBiblioteka Uniwersytecka w Warszawie

Event Details

Andrysiak Joanna, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, In Search of a Proper Form. On Warsaw and Paris monuments to Shoah victims.

Commemorating the suffering of Shoah victims in the form of a monument appears to be particularly difficult. How to present what is believed by many to be unpresentable in a form so visible and abundant in its nature? Nonetheless, monuments to Shoah victims were and are still being built both in the very spots of atrocities and in all other places where local communities feel the need for commemoration. Since the end of WWII – actually beginning already during the war — artists and benefactors were looking for a way to properly commemorate the victims — beginning with figurative sculptures and ending with contemporary anti-monuments. I will analyse and compare the monuments to Shoah victims in Warsaw and in Paris concentrating on the search of a proper form. They all together with the history of their construction mark shifts in social and political discourse about the war, the Shoah and each nation’s attitudes towards Shoah victims. I will show which ones of them seem to have succeeded or failed, while considering the certain historical and political circumstances under which they were erected. Crucial monuments dedicated to Shoah victims in Warsaw and in Paris were built either before the postmodern shift towards anti-monuments or did not follow it. The most interesting ones were created in a form that I would like to call a metonymic form and present as the most proper — apart from anti-monuments — to represent atrocities and suffering of this scale.


Katriel Tamar, University of Haifa, Central Europe in the Galilee: Cultural Legacies in Vernacular Museums.

Considering two vernacular museums in Israel – the Museum of German-speaking Jewry in Tefen and the Museum of Hungarian-speaking Jewry in Safed – I address some of the ways in which Israel’s European legacy is currently narrated and displayed in local museum settings. Demarcating cultural areas in pre-WWII in terms of the non-Jewish languages used in them, these museums reconstruct the culture and history of the ‘imagined communities’ of Jews who inhabited them in museological language. This institutionalized, language-based move of reconstructing the particular cultural legacies of Jewish communities from different parts of Europe in Israel is argued to be part of a process of ‘ethnification’ of contemporary Israeli society. The paper will explore the conflicted legacy of Central Europe in these two museums against the background of (1) Jewish Central European past experiences; (2) the identity politics related to the ‘European’ (as postcolonial) and ‘Middle Eastern’ (as indigenous) components of Israeli culture. Placing these two museums within the larger landscape of heritage museum-making in Israel, they will be argued to combine aspects of well-recognized museological genres – such as ethnographic, immigration, Jewish and Holocaust museums. The resulting hybrid formation offers an opportunity for some reflections on the cultural politics of museum categorization more generally.


Janus Aleksandra, Jagiellonian University, The Politics of Difficult Heritage and the Museum Practice.

As many scholars underline, heritage goes far beyond a thing or group of things with defined meaning and values. As stressed by Laurajane Smith, it is an ‘inherently political and discordant’ practice that performs the cultural ‘work’ of the present. It can be used (and is used) to serve contemporary goals and satisfy actual needs of individuals and groups, it can support identity-related narratives and can form a space where discourses overlap or stay in conflict.

The aim of the paper is to examine how the concept of a nation and national past is (re)framed by the new Polish historical museums which started to emerge about twenty years after the fall of Communism in Poland. The paper will present the results of the visitor study conducted in chosen Polish museums established after 2004, exploring the strategies employed to engage visitors, their effects on them and their possible political implications as well as the issue of inclusiveness of narratives presented and supported by these institutions.

Analyzing the strategies of representing the past employed to create the vistor experience in the new Polish historical museums, the research captures the social impact of museums in the process of (re)creating national identity, calls for attention to the political implications of this process and examines the tension between inclusiveness and universality of these narratives for diverse groups of visitors.


Fontana Erica, University of California, San Diego, Photographs as Objects in the Narrative Museum.

What is the role of the photograph in the “narrative museum” – a museum institution whose primary focus is a story being told, which drives the selection of objects chosen for display and the paths which visitors are directed to follow? During my fieldwork in Poland, among the proliferation of new museums and museum-like institutions which have opened there in the past 10 to 15 years, I observed a number of narrative exhibitions, in whose displays photographs featured prominently and in some cases exclusively. In this paper, I argue that photos in museums, understood as both images and material objects, play an important role in crafting and legitimating new collective mythologies of Poland as a nation, of its various regions, and of its relationships with Europe and with other nations for 21st-century citizens. As photos, being contemporary records of what was, carry the air of veracity, they serve as documents of the past, providing evidence and support for the museum narrative in the same way as museum artifacts. Photos, like museum artifacts, also serve as material objects in that their provenance and trajectory through time and space often contributes to the museum narrative, and as social objects in that museum visitors use them as a point of focus and discussion for relevant issues. In particular, visual images of local settings, particularly culturally diverse local heritages, play a role in connecting to global and European themes, asserting a contemporary image of Poland as diverse, multicultural, and European.


(Tuesday) 14:15 - 16:25


Biblioteka Uniwersytecka w Warszawie / University of Warsaw Library

Dobra 56/66, 00-312 Warszawa

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