Warsaw. The exhibition “The Power of Stories” was opened at the Polish History Museum

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The exhibition “The Power of Stories” was opened at the Polish History Museum. It is a look at the history of our country through the eyes of artists: painters, writers and directors. The exhibition is open to visitors from Saturday. It can be viewed until September 15.

– “The Power of Stories” is the first narrative exhibition at the Polish History Museum. This is an attempt to show how the history of our country has been told for centuries, said MHP director Robert Kostro. He added that the presented exhibition was created as part of work on the script for the permanent exhibition at the Polish History Museum. – We began to understand that there were previous generations before us who wanted to tell the history of Poland using different means and methods. This was the first inspiration to create this exhibition, he emphasized.

He explained that the “Power of Stories” exhibition is intended to show the process of building stories about Polish history. – We start with medieval chronicles, then we go through painting, then we reach the point where we talk about public ceremonies, national holidays, then we show the power of the novel – the main character here is Sienkiewicz, finally we reach the cinema, and finally museums – he explained.

– This is an exhibition about history, but also about memory, about a certain tension that exists between history and memory, about how we share our historical experiences and how we pass them on to the next generations – added Kostro.

The first narrative exhibition at the Polish History Museum

During the opening, the director of the Polish History Museum emphasized that this aspect of telling history is particularly important due to its decisive impact on building national identity and awareness.

The director noted that “The Power of Stories” is the first narrative exhibition at the MHP. – The previous one, which we opened in the museum in September last year, was a presentation of our collection, while the current one is a comprehensive story – said Robert Kostro.

The exhibition presents, among others: Wincenty Kadłubek's chronicle in a handwritten version from the 15th century, a breviary containing the text of the song “Gaude, Mater Polonia” by Klemens of Piotrków from 1502, a unique pilgrim's badge with the image of the chopped up body of Saint. Stanisław. There are paintings illustrating great events in the history of Poland: “The Power of the Republic of Poland at its zenith” by Jan Matejko, “Chodkiewicz pod Chocim” by Józef Brandt, as well as less known, but very interesting works by painters from the Brotherhood of St. Luke, forming a series of historical paintings shown in the hall of honor of the Polish pavilion at the World Exhibition in New York in 1939. The exhibits include a ceremonial hammer and a trowel used to lay the foundation stone for the construction of the Temple of Divine Providence in May 1792.

– We often leave school with the belief that history is the domain of scientists who know how and when something happened. Meanwhile, it consists of at least two elements. On the one hand, these are critical examinations of facts, and on the other – arranging them into a story. Creating these stories is an extremely important process in shaping collective identity, the identity of the nation, said the director of the MHP.

See also: End of the investigation into the “arrested” painting by Jacek Malczewski

Propaganda that became art

Curator of the exhibition: prof. Michał Kopczyński, telling the first visitors about its structure, drew attention to the importance of historical painting for telling the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

– It started with propaganda in the 17th century, which we today consider art. At that time, its goal was to praise the Vasa dynasty, which it managed to do effectively. Then, painting in the 19th century was a critical reflection or a reminder of the greatness of Polish history that had already passed. It was also a place for scratching wounds. Here we are thinking primarily about Jan Matejko. In the 20th century, painting became the presentation of Poland abroad, he explained.

– The exhibition is introduced by the part that tells about the old chronicle. Here we want to talk about building a community through chronicles that used history to create our history, said Dr. Aleksandra Jakóbczyk-Gola, co-author of the exhibition. She added that the first chronicles were stories about the history of the family and the ruler himself, because they were considered an emanation of the community. The cards also included discussions about the ancient origins of the nation and the ruling family. The exhibition also tells the story of noble coats of arms, which have been a symbol of family ties for centuries.

The next section of the exhibition is devoted to official ceremonies that were supposed to build the nation's identity. – For us, for example, the May holidays are primarily days off from work, three days of barbecue. However, ceremonies dating back to ancient Egypt served to build unity and awareness of beginnings, noted Prof. Kopczyński. The exhibition shows how July 15, i.e. the commemoration of the victory at Grunwald, May 3, was celebrated, as well as the specific form of ceremony, i.e. patriotic funerals in the 19th century.

Sienkiewicz's works broke down divisions

The power of historical writing in shaping the collective memory of Poles is shown by, among others, Sienkiewicz's “Trilogy”, which influenced generations of readers. As emphasized during the vernissage, prof. Michał Kopczyński, making the historical novel widely available would not be possible without “the second printing revolution, which took place at the beginning of the 19th century and consisted in combining the printing press with a steam engine.”

This innovation made it possible to mass-print cheap books available to the growing number of literate people.

– In these conditions, there was a place for Sienkiewicz and his novels, which for the first time in Polish history crossed the boundaries of social divisions. He created stories that were very beautifully written, but not complicated. In this way, Sienkiewicz became the continuator of historical painting and the forerunner of historical cinema – noted prof. Kopczyński.

History in cinema and the Internet

Polish historical cinema was presented through stills, set design elements and costumes.

– At the beginning it was a big cinema for little money. The audience mainly liked simple romance stories, such as those by Sienkiewicz, said Dr. Jakóbczyk-Gola. Drawing attention to the historical cinema of the Polish People's Republic, she emphasized the existence of three categories of films: propaganda films, large super-productions and “shelf productions”, i.e. productions that, as a result of political changes, were placed in closed archives for many years.

The exhibition ends with a module devoted to museums – present in the space of Polish public debate since the end of the 18th century and during the partitions. As explained by Dr. Jakóbczyk-Gola, the aim of the first Polish museums, such as the Temple of the Sibyl, established on the initiative of Izabela Czartoryska, was to strive for the survival of Polish national heritage in the absence of its own state. After its reconstruction, one of the great challenges of the Second Polish Republic was building a national museum.

– It was the institution that was supposed to focus many artistic and historical experiences. After World War II, the heroic reconstruction of the Royal Castle, supported by the entire nation, showed how important a role historical museums play – emphasized the curator of the exhibition.

– The exhibition ends with a space devoted to the presence of history on the Internet. Historical topics live there in very different contexts – from scientific to completely humorous – explained the exhibition organizers.

The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive catalog containing not only a description of the presented artifacts, but also a collection of historical articles written by the curators

Main photo source: Albert Zawada/PAP



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