"In King Matt's Poland" on view at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

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"In King Matt's Poland" on view at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
Installation view.

WARSAW.- Is it worth talking to children about freedom, statehood or co-responsibility? When should you start? How to go about it and what really is the point?

POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews invites you to a unique exhibition addressed to both children and adults. The exposition creates a space for intergenerational debate, individual discoveries and gaining experience through action. The 100th anniversary of Poland regaining independence provides an occasion to reflect on the toils and challenges of rebuilding a state, and to recall the remarkable figure of Janusz Korczak—a pedagogue, social activist and proponent of children’s rights. The exhibition encourages its visitors, both big and small, to venture into the enchanted world of Korczak’s novel King Matt the First and invites them to a fascinating meeting with the little king, full of engaging tasks and fun and games in a fairy tale-like surroundings.

In King Matt’s Poland exhibition revolves around Korczak’s novel that was itself inspired by the grand historic events taking place at the time: the end of the First World War and the rebirth and reconstruction of the state. “Korczak wrote the book in order to explain to children what are the mechanisms of governing a state and the toil and responsibility it entails. Similarly to Korczak at the moment of Poland’s rebirth, on the 100th anniversary of this momentous event, we would like to encourage “small and big adults” to reflect upon freedom, responsibility, and a democratic state,” says Dr Tamara Sztyma, the exhibition curator.

Visitors entering the exhibition begin with a brief historical section adapted for children’s needs—by way of interesting iconography, original objects and an animated film the museum tells the tale of “what happened 100 years ago.”

The world of history then transforms into a world of fantasy—visitors “step into” the novel King Matt the First and get acquainted with the story and with main problems faced by its little protagonist. Iwona Chmielewska, a renowned illustrator, author of numerous art books in which the image and the narrative permeate each other to create a coherent symbolic message, produced illustrations for this section of the exhibition.

Having left the labyrinth of a literary narrative, visitors enter an open space full of fun and games, where both children and adults are encouraged to talk about and reflect upon universal issues pertaining to the way both the state and smaller, local communities are organized. While fulfilling engaging tasks that stimulate imagination—a voting machine, a kaleidoscope or scales to weigh a state budget—they ponder questions such as: what does it mean to govern, to reach decisions vital for the entire society and to manage a budget? And also, what are the rights of people, citizens, children?

"Following in the footsteps of Korczak who respected children’s needs but also treated them seriously, we make an attempt at engaging children in a conversation on vital issues pertaining to history and the present-day, seeking the right language to hold such a conversation. Children can run, play, touch various items and even climb on them. The exposition encourages the children to pose questions, to talk to their peers and to their guardians," explains Anna Czerwińska, co-curator of the exhibition.

The space devoted to the interwar period is filled with original objects—everyday items that function at the backdrop of grand historical events, often linked to fulfilling different social functions or belonging to different social groups. Finally, in the last section of the exhibition, Iza Rutkowska, artist and performer who combines art with social activism, gives the floor to children. She invited them to talk about who looks after the state on a daily basis and created a unique installation with them.

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