Decolonizing museum practices – case study of the exhibition “Museum? What for?”

Barbara Banasik

Keywords: museum; museology; exhibition; decolonizing; ethics

Participation: on-line

In November 2021 the Asia and Pacific Museum opened the new temporary exhibition entitled “Museum? What for?”, where we attempt to decolonize museum narratives, collecting strategies, and exhibiting.

The temporary exhibition “Museum? What for?” inquires about the things that are not there. Our historical narrative is governed by “lack”: of the facts and people that were left out of it. We can fill in these gaps and develop alternative histories. What is missing from the museums we know?

Traces of the histories of Asian and Pacific cultures and their artefacts, which are not displayed alongside their European counterparts. The first part of the exhibition explores the history of modern museology in Europe. At this stage, we also fill in the blanks in history. We place exhibits hailing from Asia and the Pacific region into “classical” museum displays. And in such a manner we attempt to rectify the “omissions”.

The exhibition encourages a change of perspective and seeing Europe as “the rest of the world” for once. It prompts reflection on one’s own history and attitude towards reality. In this paper, I would like to present the strategies and narratives that we have chosen and their reception by a broader audience.

Exhibition website and catalogue (in Polish and English):


Dr. Barbara Banasik - Asia and Pacific Museum in Warsaw University of Warsaw
Curator of the South Asian collection at the Asia and Pacific Museum, where she curated the exhibitions Museum? What for?, STIRRING (featured in Practicing Decoloniality: A Practical Guide with Examples from Museums, M. Wróblewska and C. Ariese, to be published by Amsterdam University Press), THIS IS POLAND, Nodir kule kule (contemporary Bangladeshi art). The exhibition currently on display – Museum? What for? – invites visitors and museum professionals to engage in decolonizing discourse inside the cultural institutions of Poland. Researcher at the University of Warsaw, Chair of South Asian Studies, where she obtained her PhD in Sanskrit literature and aesthetics. Currently working on a book on Maithili painting within a grant funded by National Centre for Science Poland.