Archive for March 17th, 2016

T1-MMT-P5 Canberra exhibitions

Recently I went to Canberra for the weekend, visiting a number of exhibitions.

Tom Roberts The Golden Fleece (1894)

Tom Roberts
The Golden Fleece (1894)

Tom Roberts at the National Gallery of Australia (link).

Roberts (1856 – 1931) is a widely known and loved painter in Australia. He painted country and city scenes, landscapes and portraits. He was versatile, a creative thinker, a leader and mentor among artists. Robert’s paintings are iconic, helping to form national identity, celebrating the country and the people working in it.

More correctly, Robert’s images show one aspect of Australia’s identity. The imagery and the story was very different at exhibitions at the National Museum of Australia.

Encounters: Revealing stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects from the British Museum (link).

I was prepared to be angry about this exhibition. Objects acquired often in shady if not always violent circumstances, so deeply and personally important to people living in Australia but destined to return to their “owners”, stored out of sight or displayed for their anthropologic or exotic interest. (I’m a beneficiary of invasion, so yes, glass houses).

The exhibition was different. It was a collaborative project, including research and community engagement. Vibrant, rich, living cultures were celebrated. Individuals and communities were allowed a voice, and given the opportunity to learn about the objects, to reconnect with their heritage. Ongoing pain and sorrow were expressed, as well as celebration and pride.

There’s an associated conference on this week – “explor[ing] how Indigenous communities and museums are re-thinking relationships with colonial collections – questioning and confronting the legacies of colonialism in creative and unexpected ways.” (

As a textile lover and a maker the ancient and modern objects were fascinating, as were the videos showing recent workshops and teaching events.

So much more positive than I anticipated.

Except… in the end the objects will return to the UK. Maybe there is a will for change, but power remains unequal.

Unsettled: Stories within

Sited next to Encounters in the Museum was an exhibition of works by leading Indigenous Australian artists responding to Encounters.

Mugugalurgarra (conceal) by Jonathan Jones blew me away (link). Objects from the National Museum’s collection, acquired from his homeland, were wrapped in pages of a 1878 text The Aborigines of Victoria: With Notes Relating to the Habits of the Natives of other Parts of Australia and Tasmania. Jones displayed the wrapped objects in large glass cabinets, historical cases from the Institute of Anatomy.

What an incredible, succinct statement of what was done to his culture. Objects taken, obscured by layers of foreign constructs that were all about western culture, carefully labelled and put behind glass as curiosities.

I would like to think that the National Museum exhibitions are small but positive steps, part of a larger process of grappling with intractable problems. It would be nice to think that precious objects could return to the people to whom they are most precious, who share the value system in which they were created. But those powerful, self-appointed guardians…

Slight change of topic, but I read an interesting article today. What hit home was the expression “unwitting racism”. The real meaning of Rhodes Must Fall by Amit Chaudhuri (link).

Textiles 1 – Mixed Media for Textiles
Part 5: A final piece
Canberra exhibitions
T1-MMT-P5 Canberra exhibitions


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March 2016

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