Peace Museums and Peacebuilding in Changing Culture, Part II

By Vladimir I. Ionesov

Visualization of Peace and War in Museum Practices: New Imperatives for Creativity

In contemporary cultural practices of exhibiting peace, the traditional understanding of memory visualization as a mirror fixation and representation of the past in images of war, violence and their victims is still widespread. However, today the transition to a new expansive – culturological – interpretation of heritage screening as a creative experience and a symbolic practice is increasingly evident. There is a need to address the cultural experience of memory visualization, which significantly push the boundaries of the historical legacy of war and peace in modern culture. Thereby, the task is to consider the experience of the past as a field of creativity and as new visual communication practices.

A considerable part of museums for peace owe their origins to events that are far from actually peacebuilding activities. At the heart of their expositions prevails the history of violence, the chronicle of combat victories and defeats, the evidence of war crimes and demonstration of victims of armed conflicts. The images and plots of the main museum show-cases are designed to show the depth of human disunity and endless social cataclysms in the history of society. Of course, despite the striking differences in the sectoral specifics and the thematic focus of various kinds of activities, all of them, in one way or another, are ultimately focused on the cultivation of the values of nonviolence, mercy, concord and peace.

However, the ideas of peace and humanism are expressed here more in contrast to the destructive consequences of wars and violence. In the discourse of this visual contradistinction peace itself is very little in it. Peace is shown here as the projection of the military paradigm, and is understood as the continuation or absence of war and deterrence of violence. The importance of this memorial peacekeeping practice or of the modern culture of opposition to war is beyond any doubt. It is important to the extent that the United Nations Peacekeeping Forcesare important for the cessation and containment of war, which in the interpretation of the Charter of this international organization is a specialized military contingent with the aim of preventing or eliminating the threat to peace and security through joint enforcement actions (military demonstration, military blockade, etc.).

Thus, museum peacebuilding practices often act as certain peacekeeping forces to relieve military tension and to tame violence. In this way, peace here is positioned rather in the form of a triumphant end of the war, a victorious event or a meaningful truce.

One of the most dangerous challenges to modern culture is the globalizing syndrome of value disorientation.  Modernity is increasingly being positioned as an era of substitution, mixing and destruction of values. Moreover, in this process of total mixing – the promotion of peace is often accompanied by the expansion of the culture of war. “Today’s great mixture, writes J. Baudriard, is a mixture of evil and misfortune! The unification of evil with misfortune and, consequently, good with happiness… The ideology of happiness, which, in fact, is absolutely unhappy!” (1).

In fact, the images and plots of war significantly prevail in modern culture over peacekeeping pictures. Thus, the number of Internet queries with the word war exceeds almost 2.5 times the number of queries with the word peace. There are far more museums of war and victims of violence than museums dedicated to the culture of peace. In addition, even peace museums traditionally screen mainly scenes of war and violence in their exhibits.

With regard to the museumification of the culture of peace, it is necessary to distinguish two important divergent attitudes. 1) Collecting of examples of peacemaking allows the peace museum to retain positive experience of the past (heritage), whereas 2) the deployment of heritage in the direction of modernity (to the public/ audience) makes it possible to generate new values, to solve the pressing problems of contemporary culture. The dual focus of the museum activity – in the memorial past and the actual present, makes the peace museum not only a platform for versatile cooperation, but also an extremely important and effective tool for social transformations (2).

After all, when everything changes, that which does not change grows in value. When everything is split and fragmented, grows in value that which connects i.e. the aspiration to get closer and cooperate. In the museum design of peacemaking activities, it is necessary to show two sets of values which perform the functions of retention (values ​​of constant value/ significance) and promotion of culture (values of innovative nature/ character).

The values ​​of constant value include: memorial artifacts, collections, archives, traditions of representation of exhibits, knowledge and experience, universal human values, ceremonial-symbolic actions, social stereotypes of behavior, customary functional-target settings and so forth. The values ​​of innovative nature (character) include creativity of action, form-building visual-communicative experimentation, subject-attributive openness and mobility, new dialogue with artifacts, broad social involvement, principles of participation and co-participation, new information and technological methods of object screening, art-design solutions, language and event design, etc.

In the current situation of splitting cultural values, it seems important to compensate for the loss of cultural property by “increasing the value of what did not have it before” (3). This process of value regeneration allows to talk about two vectors of cultural valuation of peacemaking artifacts. 1) Peace museum (artifacts of heritage) has been incorporated, attached to everyday life (“from the value to ordinary experience”) and 2) samples of everyday culture are attached to the peace museum, thus acquiring the status of a cultural value.

Looking at modern peace museums, one cannot but agree with J. Baudrillard that “our culture is a culture of despondency and suffering”, and at that “happiness and unhappiness, depression and ecstasy are connected …exclusively with objects” (4). As the French philosopher shows, the border-line that has divided good and evil and that has divided objects is the same.

Meanwhile, the cessation of war and the retention of peace is only one side of the current peacekeeping practice. However, there is another, probably more significant one, defined as the culture of peace itself, written and interpreted in the UN documents as a strategy for change. The culture of peace is, above all, an experience of creative transformation of social reality on the principles of free humanistic creativity. Peace is creative and diverse, and thanks to its creative resources, a new cultural landscape of the society is being constituted, the boundaries of human freedom and communication are expanding, social responsiveness and civic engagement is growing seeking a solution for the most urgent challenges of the present (5).

If the museum memorial practices of peacebuilding liberate culture from war, the museum strategies of the culture of peace provide freedom for peacebuilding, thereby transforming peace into an active catalyst for social change. Liberation from war and freedom for peace are two opposing though interrelated, processes. In the first case, we are talking essentially about archiving of violence, its commemorative taming or symbolic neutralization with the aim of preventing the repetition of war. In the second case, the process of generating and constructing a new culture of peace is launched on the way to the maximally possible humanistic transformations.

In the practice of museum design of a culture of peacemaking, it is necessary to take into account possible provocative syndromes of visual adaptation of artifacts. By themselves, these artifacts give little food for thought even if labels and comments are attached to them. To see in the museum brutal scenes of violence does not mean at all to be imbued with the idea of the need for positive actions. Contemplation of human suffering requires understanding and refraction of the visual experience into actual socially significant practice. As it is precisely noted S. Sontag: “Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers” (6).


  1. Baudrillard, Jean (2006) Paroli. Ot Fragmenta k Tselomu Passwords. From the Fragment to the Whole (In Russian). Yekaterinburg: Faktoriya. – P. 101
  2. Ionesov, Vladimir I. (2018) “Can Peacemaking be a Peace Maker?” in Peace Review. A Journal of Social Justice. 30:4, 527-536
  3. Groys, Boris (2015) O Novom. Opyt Ekonomiki Kultury / About the New. The Experience of Cultural Economics (In Russian). – Мoscow: Ad Marginem Press (Garage Pro). – P. 134
  4. Baudrillard, Jean (2006) Paroli. Ot Fragmenta k Tselomu Passwords. From the Fragment to the Whole (In Russian). Yekaterinburg: Faktoriya. – P. 130-134
  5. Apsel, Joyce, eds. (2012) Museums for Peace: Transforming Cultures. Hague (The Netherlands): INMP. – 270 p.
  6. Sontag, Susan. 2003. Regarding the Pain of Others. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. – New York: The Wylie Agency. The Estate of Susan Sontag. – P.91

Vladimir I. Ionesov is professor, chair of department of theory and history of culture at Samara State Institute of Culture and Director, International School for Advanced Research in Cultural Studies. He is founder and chairperson of Samara International Society for Cultural Studies. He has 30 years of experience in culture of peacebuilding in the international programs of the Samarkand International Museum of Peace and Solidarity (Uzbekistan) and of the Samara International Society for Cultural Studies (Russia). Author of over 350 scientific works, including five monographs and over 30 edited books. Some of his articles were published in Current Anthropology, Peace Review, Scientific Culture and Ristumeikan Journal of Kyoto Museum for World Peace on the topics of ritual and symbolic practices in changing culture. His current interests: anthropology of war and peace, culture in transition, social innovations in cultural process, visualization of memory, creative museum practices. 

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