What is the East to the West? On Our Inspiring Meetings

Anna Katarzyna Maleszko
(National Museum in Warsaw, Polish Institute of World Art Studies)

Since the end of the 19th century cultural and anthropological studies coined multiple theories – often contradictory – about the permeation and mutual influences of dissimilar civilisations and cultures. Today, thanks to the development of technology and communication, we effortlessly navigate through multiple cultures. Slowly, the term “culture” itself becomes problematic. Back in the days, this word meant “refinement”, or – as Matthew Arnold put it – “the study of perfection”. Since the research by Franz Boas we do not speak about culture anymore, but about cultures built by different societies. Currently anthropologists more and more reluctantly use the word “culture”, paying homage to the view that “humanity […] bode farewell to the world in which one could […] see a cultural mosaic, made of separate fragments with clearly marked edges. Cultural relations cut through the world with more and more lines”.

Poland is a country of a strong national identity, which at the same time has a culture that has been taking by the handful from the property of other countries and processing these acquired elements after its own fashion, satisfying its own taste. Poles are prone to admiration of otherness connected with the disavowing of Polishness. This can be dangerous, but it can also bear good fruit and bring positive outcomes. The latter, in my opinion is true for our contacts with the Japanese culture, which has unchangeably, for more than century, evoked admiration and become a source of various inspirations. Particular reflections on this topic have been inspired in me by the events accompanying three exhibitions that I organised in the years 2015-2016. I would like to share these observations and offer my own understanding of the causes of such great interest in Japanese art and culture in general in Poland.