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The Polish Society of Oriental Art was a scientific organization devoted to the art of Asia, Africa and other extra-European civilizations, Byzantine and post-Byzantine art as well as the art of national minorities of Eastern origins living in Europe. Members of the Society were art historians, art restorers, archaeologists, ethnologists and musicologists, theatre and film researchers interested in audio-visual culture.

There was a long tradition of research into the abovementioned fields in Poland, but it had been never conducted on a broad scale. The curricula of the first lectures on art history delivered in 1810–1818 at Vilna University by a professor of etching and “literature of fine arts” of English descent, Joseph Saunders, included the art of India, Persia and Jewish art. In his About the Art at Ancients, that is a Polish Winkelman, published in 1815 in Warsaw, an outstanding thinker and collector Stanislaw Kostka Potocki included a valuable chapter on the art of China and sub-chapters on the art of India and Persia.

From the late 19th century, academic and artistic communities of Lwow and Krakow expressed growing interest in the arts of the Islam world, especially in Persian art, Jewish art, the art of eastern Christianity (including Armenian art) and finally in the art of the Far East. Professor Tadeusz Mańkowski devoted his research to Islamic art and the art of Armenians, professor Zofia Ameisen – to Jewish art; professors Wojsław Molé (of Slovenian descent) and Władysław Podlacha – to the art of the Orthodox Church. An outstanding collector and critic Feliks Jasieński wrote texts about Japanese art. Various weeklies in Warsaw, Krakow and Lwow published comprehensive articles on Oriental art, occasionally of a high scientific value. Publications in Tygodnik Ilustrowany, Kłosy, Wędrowiec and Świat particularly contributed to the development of Polish science.

After the Second World War, professors Tadeusz Mańkowski, Zofia Ameisen and Wojsław Molé continued their research in Krakow, yet professor Mieczysław Gębarowicz decided to stay in Lwow. New researchers appeared on the scientific scene, among them: professor Zdzisław Żygulski, a specialist in Islamic art, Zofia Alber PhD interested in Japanese art and professor Hanna Różycka-Bryzek interested in Byzantine-Russian art. In Warsaw, art historians, such as professor Andrzej Jakimowicz, who conducted lectures and seminars and published on the art of India and Indonesia, professor Barbara Dąb-Kalinowska researching into the history of Ruthenian and Russian art and professor Przemysław Trzeciak, an author of the texts on Chinese and Japanese art, were accompanied by Orientalists, professor Mieczysław Künstler interested in Chinese art and Tadeusz Majda, an organizer of exhibitions devoted to Turkish and Persian art.

In the 1980s, a new trend in the research into Jewish art appeared in Poland. After 1989, opening of borders and growing travelling possibilities enabled a new generation of researchers and museums employees to study cultures of Asia, Africa, and finally Latin America. Because of the lack of lectures and seminars on extra-European art history at Polish universities, Polish students were forced to study in Germany, France and Great Britain. This resulted in including lectures on Asian and Northern American art in the curriculum of studies, which happened for the first time in 1992 at Łódź University and in 1994 at the Faculty of Fine Arts of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, where the first Section of Oriental Art in Poland was established in 2002.

In the same year, the Section began to organize a conference titled “Meeting of Polish Art Historians and Restorers of Oriental Works of Art”, overcoming barriers between the two communities of researchers. A series of publications, “Toruń Studies on Oriental Art”, was printed, and the first master and doctoral theses were defended. The First Meeting of Japanese and Polish Art Historians and Musicologists, organized by the Section of Oriental Art in cooperation with the Faculty of Humanities of Osaka University in Japan, was held in Warsaw and Torun in 2004. It was an event of international significance.

In 2003, a year after the establishment of the Section of Oriental Art, the Chair of History of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art was established in the Faculty of Humanities at Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw. In October of the same year, the Chair, in cooperation with the university in Leiden, organized the first international conference titled Proskynetaria from Jerusalem. Souvenirs of Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and began to publish an annual titled Series Byzantina. Two years later, in October 2005, the second conference, Oriens ex Alto. Art and Liturgy in the Eastern Church, was held in Warsaw.

In 2006, the decision was made at the Third Torun Meeting to establish a scientific society that, in the face of organizational weakness of the community, would integrate researchers from various centres, especially non-academic ones, and stipulate research. A founding meeting of the Polish Society of Oriental Art was held in Warsaw on 2 December 2006, and a few months later, on 2 April 2007, the Society was registered in the National Court Register.

Gradually, the Society attracted almost all research workers, restorers and museologists interested in Oriental art in Poland. All in all, the Society has 110 members, including eight professors and holders of postdoctoral degree as well as 29 doctors.

Originally, a dominating, large group consisted of researchers into the art of the Far East, particularly of Japan, and this was the subject of the first conference held in Warsaw in June 2007. An important international conference, Art of Japan, Japanisms and Polish-Japanese Art Relation, was organized in Krakow in 2010.

In January 2008, an international conference devoted to the Art of China was held in Warsaw. More important, however, was the First Conference of Polish and Chinese Historians of Art, Poland – China. Art and Cultural Heritage, organized in cooperation with the Tsinghua University in Beijing and Shanghai University as well as the Centre of Chinese Language and Culture, “Confucius Institute”, of the Jagiellonian University, held in Krakow in September 2009.

Soon, the Society members expanded their scope of interests over Southern and Central Asia, which was due to the Warsaw conferences: Christian Art on the Borderlands of Asia, Africa and Europe held in May and the international one, Sacred World of Central Asia, held in November 2008.

The next organized group was the one interested in Jewish art. It established the Section of Jewish and Israeli Art; the main outcome of its activity was the first international conference organized by the Society on such a large scale: The First Congress of Jewish Art in Poland, Jewish Artists and Central-Eastern Europe, the 19th to WWII, held in October 2008 at Kazimierz on the Vistula River.  

A very important event was the international conference on Christian Art on the Borderlands of Asia, Africa and Europe, organized in Zakroczym in May 2008, which broadened the scope of the Society’s interests over Byzantine, Coptic and Eastern Christian Churches’ art. The annual Series Byzantina became a mutual periodical of the Society and the Chair of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art of Cardinal Wyszyński University. The next international conference Art of Armenian Diaspora was organized in Zamość in 2010.

Asian themes were complemented by two other conferences on Islamic art and contacts of Poland with Turkey, Persia and Arab countries, organized in Krakow. The first one, titled Oriental Fabrics in Poland – Taste or Tradition, was held in December 2008. A conference organized in October of the following year, the biggest one in the history of the Society, titled Art of the Islamic World and Artistic Relationships between Poland and Islamic Countries (dedicated to Polish-Lithuanian Tartars) attracted many researchers from Arab countries, such as Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, from Tartar countries (the Crimea, Tatarstan, Bashkiria), Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, Europe, the United States and Malaysia. The conference was organized in cooperation with the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology and with the Asia and Pacific Museum as well as the Section of Oriental Art of Nicolaus Copernicus University. It gave the Society new and fascinating prospects for research and international contacts.

Apart from Asia and European-Asian borderland, the attention was directed to African art and ethnology. A conference Cultures of Africa, organized (in cooperation with the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology of Nicolaus Copernicus University) in Torun in October 2007, attracted art historians, ethnologists and Africanists, enabling them to exchange opinions and research attitudes for the first time.

Finally, March 2008 was when a Section of Central- and South-American Arts was established, opening the research into this continent, far too neglected by art historians in Poland.

Conferences, publications and research of the Society have been so far subsidized by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, Ministry of Science and Higher Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Marshal’s Office of the Malopolskie Voivodeship, Adam Mickiewicz Institute, and the Embassy of the United States of America in Warsaw.

The Society has established cooperation with many Polish institutions sharing a scope of interest, including the Asia and Pacific Museum in Warsaw, Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Krakow, Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Center of Chinese Language and Culture “Confucius Institute” of Jagiellonian University in Krakow, South Asia Institute of Warsaw University, Chair of Ethnography of Nicolaus Copernicus University, Chair of Art History of the University of Lodz (researching into, among other things, the art of Africa, South and Central America), Institute of Art History of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin and Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. Majority of these institutions employ members of the Society.

Apart from conferences, an important goal of the Society is publishing the results of research, conference papers and books by Society members (such as, for instance, doctoral theses). In Warsaw, the DiG Publishing House publishes two series: “Conferences of the Polish Society of Oriental Art” and “Orient”; Neriton Publishing House – two series: “Artistic Orient” and “Artistic Culture of Jews”; Trio Publishing House – two series: “Civilization of the Middle Kingdom” and “Art of Asia and Africa”. Other publications appear also in Torun, by the Nicolaus Copernicus University Press (a “Torun Studies on Oriental Art” series), in Adam Marszalek Publishing House and TACO Publishing House.

On the international scene, the Society supports the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in its ASEM (Asia – Europe Meetings) activity, bringing together the members states of the European Union and countries of Eastern, Southern, and South-Eastern Asia. The Society has established scientific contacts and cooperation with universities and scientific centres of majority of Asian countries (including China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam) and the Middle East (including Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey), the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, the United States, Canada, and the state members of the European Union, especially the Czech Republic, Greece, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Hungary, and Great Britain.

Although it has been operating for the short time, the Society has managed to develop its own scopes and methods. The evidence may be the list of conferences and comprehensive literature, both published by the Society and written by its members.

In June 2011, the Polish Society of Oriental Art merged with the Society of Modern Art in Torun. This was a similar body (founded in 2000), which organized research projects and conferences on the art of Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and contemporary world art. In this way a new organization, the Polish Institute of World Art Studies, was formed.