Gavrilović, Ljiljana – Museums and Constraints of Power


lj_gavrilovic_muzeji_granice_mociGavrilović, Ljiljana – Museums and Constraints of Power

2011, pp. 194

Price 600 RSD ($8)







About the Author

Ljiljana Gavrilović, born in Belgrade in 1953, graduated from and completed her PhD at the University of Belgrade. She is employed by the Institute of Ethnography of the Serbian Academy of Science and Art. She has published a sizeable number of works on family relations and common law in traditional culture, on popular culture, and on museums and new museology. Prior to this one, she published the following books: The Balkan Costumes by Nikola Arsenović (2004), The Yugoslav Ethographer Nikola Arsenović ((2006), Showcasing Culture: Toward a New Brand of Museology (2007) On various kinds of  Politics, Identities and Other Museum Stories. The research for this book has been published within the framework of the following research projects, financed by the Serbian Ministry of Science and Technological Development: Anthropological Inquiry into Communication in Contemporary Serbia, #147021, and  Cultural Heritage and Identity, # 177026.


Why do the Museums Matter Today?

The museums are a topic whose attractiveness to the Serbian scholars too has been on the rise of late. More and more books are produced in Serbia that deal with various aspects of museum work; there is the Center for Museology and Heritology at Belgrade University’s Scool of Arts and Sciences (still a part, for the time being, of the Art History Department); Many recent MA and PhD dissertations have been dealing with museology, or with the conservation of cultural heritage in the broadest sense. Thus, a subject matter, as trendy as it may have been worldwide, while neglected in Serbia, has finally gained access to the Serbian scholarly community, which should result in better ways for museums to gain access to the public, in a better alignment between what interests people and what museums do. Examples of new approaches to museum operation are on the rise (everything the History Museum of Yugoslavia does, certain exibits of the History Museum of Serbia, for  instance, or the exibit entitled  The Plastic Nineties at the Ethnography Museum in Belgrade), but it is only a drop in the ocean of everyday, conventional museum offerings.

The key issues with which I am dealing are related to the basic relationships between  museums, society, and identity politics, which determine how cultural heritage and the role of museums are understood. I am also writing in this book about the relationship between museology and anthropology, the latter being my “proper” field, but also between museums and popular culture and the contemporary world at large. The expression in the title “constraints of power” designates various kinds of constraints: ideological, physical, symbolic, self explanatory, all those limitations which daily hamper our lives, forcing us to forego, skip, or wait.

Even though the work on these texts has significantly enhanced my understanding of many issues (we all write primarily in order to arrive at answers to questions raised by our own mind), there remain many topics open for other texts and books.


The very idea of having this book included in the 20th Century Library brought a lot of stress upon me. It was actually the book collection from which I had learned all I knew about anthropology before the advent of the Internet (wanted to know and wasn’t affraid to ask, to paraphrase the title of one of my favorite motion pictures from the Seventies).[1] When I was still a student, or decades later,  there were hardly any foreign anthropology books  available in Serbo-Croatian translation besides those published by the 20th Century Library. This meant that my book was going to stand side by side with translations of the likes of Boas, Sapir, Lévi-Strauss, Leach, Gerz and others from whom I had learned, not so much the field of anthropology itself in the sense of its basic concepts, theory, methodology, and the rest of what is required for any serious work in that field (although I learned that too), but, first and foremost,  their art of saying what they wanted to say, which is what made them genuine authors, whose prose fills the reader with the same kind of pleasure, and engages him emotionally in the same manner as does the best creative literary writing. Far be it from me that I should ever presume to have attained any of those authors’  quality of writing, but I found great encouragement in Leach’s statement: „The only self of which I have first hand knowledge is (…) my own” (Leach, 2008:40). Fully aware that writing about museums, I, in fact, write about myself, about the world seen by my eyes. It is clear that my colleagues may see the same issues in a very different light (or not perceive them at all), but I hope that my view of reality, filtered through the prism of museums and their work, can be interesting to a museology professional,  as well as to a lay person, entering  museums for particular exibits only, or not entering any at all.

[1] Woody Allen, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (*But were Afraid  to ask), 1972