Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Revolutionary Encounters

Bag woven from wool and twine, containing pituri, probably from Birdsville, collected by William Finucane in 1891, 17 x 38 x 12 cm. British Museum Oc1897,-.636.

Jeremy Eccles, Revolutionary Encounters, Aboriginal Art Directory, 10 December 2015

Most of the coverage you might have read or heard about the innovative ‘Encounters‘ exhibition at the National Museum of Australia (NMA – in Canberra) has concentrated on the issue of whether the 152 Indigenous objects borrowed from the British Museum’s 2000-strong Australian collection should be retained in Australia by the 27 tribal/language groups who made them between 200 and 100 years ago.

For instance, Paul Daley in The Guardian, puts it trenchantly: “The traditional owners of these objects acquired by Europeans in early encounters and now in the British Museum, are certainly denied genuine choice (for now) about where they are best kept”, a situation he sees as “part of a colonial continuum”. In other words, the dastardly NMA persists in the sort of History Wars/White Blindfold attitudes that sprouted so embarrassingly in the Howard years when Queenie Mckenzie’s painting of the Mistake Creek Massacre was bought and immediately hidden in a basement by the NMA Board of that day.

I differ – as does Wiradjuri artist Jonathan Jones, who was quoted in the British Museum version of this show earlier this year saying, “Making these connections begins to undo the acts of colonialism”.

I see the fact that today’s communities now have a choice about their relationship with these ‘disappeared’ objects as being the most relevant thing. Without the theft/exchanging/collecting habits of colonials – especially the British Navy of all people – and the enthusiastic museology of the Brits (for all Australia’s comparable collection of tribal objects was incinerated with the Garden Palace in Sydney in 1888), none of these magical artefacts would exist today. For nomadic peoples had no interest in conserving objects after their practical or ceremonial purposes had been expended. And most white interlopers had distressingly little interest in taking the objects or their makers seriously enough to record this culture. So the connections made today over the 3 year preparatory period for the two exhibitions have generally excited Traditional Owners, many of whom have contributed on a very equal basis to the objects in the NMA’s exhibition.

Read more

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. No claim is made as to the accuracy or authenticity of the content of the website. The Council of Australasian Museum Directors does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) which is provided on this website. The information on our website is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the site undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. No responsibility is taken for any information or services which may appear on any linked web sites. Hostgator.