Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Aboriginal Shields

Source: Adelaide Review.

Philip Jones, Aboriginal Shields: Power, Protection And History, The Adelaide Review, 5 May 2016

Dr Philip Jones discusses the fascinating significance and history of Aboriginal shields amid the SA Museum’s ongoing exhibition, Shields: Power and Protection in Aboriginal Australia.

Many cultural groups across the world, in each inhabited continent, have relied upon shields for protection in battle. In the case of Europeans, this reliance can be traced back for at least 2000 years in the written and illustrated record, to ancient Rome, Sparta and Greece. ­

Three important associations emerge from that record. First, the role of shields made of animal skin, wood or metal in providing an ultimate personal defence against blows and missiles; second, the fact that shields also served another purpose, beyond protection – that of projecting or re‑flecting an image of power, identity or defiance towards the enemy; and third, the close association of shields with honour and manhood. Shields seem to have combined these associations, in different measure, in all their manifestations.

­The current exhibition at the South Australian MuseumShields: Power and Protection in Aboriginal Australia, explores these key associations while also laying out the full range of hardwood and softwood shields (narrow and broad, painted and carved, handles inset, carved or inserted) across the country. As with the Museum’s Boomerang exhibition, which toured internationally during the 1990s, this exhibition draws upon one of the world’s great ethnographic collections to explore the significance of a single Aboriginal object.

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