Envisioning “Asia” in Poland

In 1973 the Nusantara Museum was founded in Warsaw, renamed in 1976 for today’s Asia and Pacific Museum. Its founder Andrzej Wawrzyniak was a diplomat and member of communist party, collector and traveler, creating his image and persona as an explorer of exotic countries. In that time a private collection transformed into a public one gained an interest of the broad audience and an important feedback in the period’s media. When analyzing the collection and archives, we can see today how – in post-colonial time, non-colonial country and anti-colonial political context – a quasi-colonial narrative was created, presented and accepted, shaping and confirming at the same time views of the audience. Museum’s early activities focused strongly on exoticism, aesthetic values of collection and adventurous collecting process.

Today, we face the new challenge creating a new and first in the Museum’s history permanent exhibition. For years already, a new generation of curators works for change of the “mysterious East” vision, too long in use. However, given our experience and educational needs, we decided for traditional, geographical construction of the display, called “Journey to the East”. Then, we want to indicate for the fact that the collection and its history mirrors a Polish/European gaze directed to the East. We want to focus on cultural diversity and complexity of the major part of the world, traditionally described as “Asia” even if, as Tokimasa Sekiguchi wrote, Asia does not exist. On the textual level, we also want to draw the visitors’ attention to the context in which collections were created and perceived. The accompanying program, especially educational activities, should also include the reflection on Western and specifically Polish attitudes toward foreign cultures and their heritage.

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