Thinking through the Museum team member Dr. Erica Lehrer’s recently co-curated exhibit, “Terribly Close: Polish Vernacular Artists Face the Holocaust,” was reviewed by Adam Schorin in Forward. The review, titled “In a Kraków Basement, Awkward Objects of Genocide,” describes the exhibit as “extraordinary and unnerving.”
In lieu of an abstract, here is an excerpt from the review:
At the entrance to the temporary exhibition in Esterka’s House, a branch of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, there is a photograph of the collections storage of the Warsaw State Ethnographic Museum. The photograph shows rows of densely populated shelves: in the space of just a few cubic meters, hundreds of hand-carved figurines are consorting. There are peasants and priests, farmers and nuns, Adam and Eve and la pieta. And in the center of one row in the back, half-hidden by pastoral and religious scenes, is a triptych of the Holocaust: a soldier shoots a woman and her child, corpses are loaded into ovens, a group of Jews is led away by smiling policemen.
This is how we arrive at “Terribly Close: Polish Vernacular Artists Face the Holocaust.”
In response to the exhibition #Heritage at the National Museum in Kraków, Poland, Dr. Erica Lehrer has published a long-form review titled “Making #Heritage Great Again.” The review reads the show critically as the newest volley in a national culture war in the context of Poland’s recent hard rightward turn.
(photo credit: Erica Lehrer)
The review is free to read in the online journal Political Critique, the international arm of Central and Eastern Europe’s largest liberal network of institutions and activists.
Here is a short excerpt:
“The #Heritage (#Dziedzictwo) exhibition at Krakow’s National Museum is imposing, grand, and low-tech. It is an old-school, collection-based exhibition that exemplifies a traditional form of museological deceit, where profoundly political work is disguised as objectivity and benevolent custodianship. But #Heritage is novel because it co-opts not only the seeming neutrality of the original museum-as-treasure-box, but also the trappings of more recent, democratic approaches to curating, all while neutralizing true civic debate.”
On June 27, 2017, Dr. Erica Lehrer will participate in an action to “hack” the Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Krakow. As a supervisor to students leading the project, Dr. Lehrer and the group will use a rattle to lead visitors through the course of the museum hack. It will be passed from hand to hand to make noise – a aural symbol of their “intervention.” Rattles are instruments present in many cultures, a ritual noisemaker used in ceremonies. People often forget that in multicultural villages objects were often passed from one community to another, crossing cultural boundaries and blurring them in the process. Christians used rattles during Holy Week, and Jews used them on Purim (a grager in Yiddish). They plan to use the rattle to symbolize openness to diversity, to work against fantasies of cultural purity, and to recall Poland’s multicultural community.
The project uses the museum as a space of reflection about the contemporary identity (or identities) of those people whose origins lie in the Polish countryside. If this is a “museum about me,” can I find my roots here? Can you? What might be missing in this museum? Or what prevents us from feeling a connection between who we are, and the people and culture on display?
More information about the action and project can be found on facebook and on the museum’s website.
POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews (photo credit: W. Kryński)
Canadian Museum for Human Rights (photo credit: CMHR – MCDP flickr)
Dr. Erica Lehrer has been awarded a SSHRC Insight Grant valued at $133,268 for a 4-year comparative project focusing on Poland and Canada entitled “Difficult Heritage in National Museums.” As Lehrer describes the project:
Major museums worldwide are increasingly billed as sites of human rights and democratic spaces of introspection and critical thinking. But given museums’ origins as organs of the state, questions simultaneously arise regarding how museums can best do the difficult work of opening public discussions around painful, contested histories that may implicate the very nations they represent. The proposed project probes the ability of two major new national museums in Canada and Poland, countries that have both recently begun grappling with their difficult histories in public, to meet their own stated mandates for social justice. It does so by seeking creative ways to operationalize postcolonial discourses of “critical museology” filtering into establishment museums by new cohorts of activist curators.