Demythologizing Faras: the Negative Heritage of Polish Archaeology

One of the most famous collections of foreign artifacts in Poland is presented in the National Museum in Warsaw. The Faras Gallery, originally accessible since the 1960s and reopened in 2014, exhibits the precious finds from the Faras Cathedral in Nubia discovered by Kazimierz Michałowski. Michałowski stands out as one of the most prominent archaeologists in Poland. The Nubian Campaign (1961-64) conducted under the aegis of UNESCO was the milestone in Michałowski’s career. His scholarly achievements resulted in acknowledging his role as the founding father of the Polish Mediterranean archaeology.

Thus, the Faras Gallery in the National Museum in Warsaw displays not only the Early Christian past of Nubia but also the successes of the Polish school of archaeology. The narrative constructs the image of Polish scholars as innovative and internationally recognized for their skills and abilities. The recent study by Lynn Meskell (2018) conducted in the archives of UNESCO proves that the story behind the Nubian Campaign is different from the narrative presented to the wide audience in Warsaw. Monumentalized and mythologized achievements leave no place for the negative and colonial aspects of the Nubian Campaign.

In my presentation, I hope to shed light on the parts of the Nubian story that were hidden on the display. To interpret the new exhibition, I will use the term, “negative heritage” coined by Meskell in 2002 and place my considerations within the critical heritage studies. By discussing the fragmentary and colonial character of the museum narrative, I aim to deconstruct the myth of Faras in Polish archaeology. Unveiling the negative character of Nubian heritage in Poland will set a starting point for offering a potential decolonizing scenario for the exhibition.

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