Indigenous Cultures

DISPLAYING POSTS FILED UNDER: Indigenous Cultures (40)

Indigenous Cultures

We work closely with Indigenous peoples to undertake research, to develop collections and to curate exhibitions relating primarily to Indigenous peoples of Australia and the Pacific region.

Child’s play

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
15 May 2013
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Up in her studio in Melbourne’s CBD, artist and animator Isobel Knowles is working on something wonderful for the First Peoples exhibition. She is turning accounts of the traditional toys and play of Aboriginal children into beautiful animations for our young visitors. 

Isobel Knowles with paper cutouts Isobel Knowles in her studio with some of the paper cutouts she uses in her animations.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Isobel creates her animations with a combination of delicately cut pieces of paper, watercolour washes, photography and digital techniques. For this project, she took scripts that the exhibition curators wrote – mostly in collaboration with members of the First Peoples Yulendj Group – and brought them to life. Each animation shows the playthings in use which, in many cases, emulate the activities of the adults around them, such as nursing mothers and men hunting. Isobel has presented the stories with a deft touch of humour because, as she describes them, “they’re stories of the cheeky things that kids do.”

Paper cutout of paddlesteamer boat Isobel's materials: paper cutouts of a paddlesteamer and vegetation, and her storyboard sketches.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Isobel began with thinking about how she wanted the animations to feel and researching the landscapes of the different areas and the colours that would capture the Australian bush. “It’s been really nice working with Australian bush imagery,” she says. “Usually I’m referencing fairy tales so it’s a European look.” She also carefully considered how the children should appear. “I’ve been trying to research what they would wear but a lot of the reference pictures are during special events,” explains Isobel. Yulendj members helped her get these details right when she showed them the animations last week.

Paddlesteamer illustration Still image from a work-in-progress: Isobel's digital animation of the mudswitch story.
Image: Isobel Knowles
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In the Toy Story case of the Many Nations section, visitors will see the animated stories next to the actual toys. This section, with its animations, will be a key part of the museum's educational programs. The toys are from cultural groups across the country and they haven’t been on display before; many of them aren’t well-known outside their communities of origin.

Isobel says she’s enjoying the work and finding it incredibly interesting. “It’s a really exciting project for me and I feel very honoured to have been asked to do it and to contribute to such an amazing exhibition.”

Links:

Isobel Knowles's website

MV Blog: Modelling Myee's hands

MV Blog: Mudswitches on the plaza

Launch of Spencer and Gillen website

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
8 May 2013
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Comments (1)

The Spencer & Gillen: A Journey through Aboriginal Australia website was launched last Friday at a celebration at Melbourne Museum. In attendance were MV staff, representatives from several partner institutions, Central Arrernte Elders, and descendants of the two ethnographers, Walter Baldwin Spencer and Frank Gillen.

Screenshot of spencerandgillen.net Screenshot of the newly-launched website, spencerandgillen.net.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

People at launch of Spencer and Gillen Descendants of Sir Baldwin Spencer with MV curator Dr Phillip Batty and three visiting Central Arrernte Elders.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Central Arrernte Elders performing The spencerandgillen.net launch included speeches by project partners and collaborators, and a performance by three Central Arrernte Elders. L-R: Martin McMillan Kemarre, Ken Tilmouth Penangke and Duncan Lynch Peltharre.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The website has been several years in the making and brings together over 50,000 objects, photographs, documents, recordings and drawings that are housed in institutions in Australia, Europe and the United States. Research coordinator Jason Gibson calls it "one of the most comprehensive collections to do with a group of Aboriginal people. Certainly there’s nothing else like it on the web. It covers life on the frontier in Central Australia between 1875 and 1912."

Among the treasures are rare and wonderful audiovisual recordings, including the earliest film footage taken on mainland Australia. "Most of this material isn’t available on the web anywhere else, so we had to digitise and compile it at the same time," explains Jason. With a new mapping function and many ways to sort and filter the collection, you can now access these vital ethnographic records in ways never before possible, which is particularly important for members of Arrernte communities. "We spoke to over 80 different individuals from five different language groups, mainly in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek and overwhelmingly everyone is really excited and proud to have their heritage on display for all to see."

Men watching film The Central Arrernte Elders watching the footage on spencerandgillen.net of the 1901 Unintha corroboree at Charlotte Waters. This is the earliest film footage shot on mainland Australia.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

 

View the Unintha corroborree footage on spencerandgillen.net

Spencer and Gillen worked in Central Australia for 30 years. "Although they have been criticised by many people for their social evolutionist attitudes, this collection demonstrates the collaboration with local people," explains Jay. "Gillen’s very close relationship with Arrernte people was unusual at the time and they were among the first non-Indigenous people to grapple with the concept of the Dreaming. 'Dream time' was a Gillen interpretation of the Arrernte word Altyerr and this interpretation became important internationally in terms of thinking about religion and society."

The website is the product of a collaborative project that was funded by the Australian Research Council and led by the Australian National University. It would not have been possible without the partner organisations especially the South Australian Museum, Northern Territory Library, and the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Links:

spencerandgillen.net

Media News: Putting Spencer and Gillen back together

MV Blog: Following the travelling Tjitjingalla

MV Blog: Rare scene of first European contact

Modelling Myee's hands

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
16 April 2013
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Comments (9)

Last Friday Myee Patten, daughter of MV staff member Will Patten, came to work with her dad to stick her hands in a bucket of goo. This might seem an odd school holiday activity, but it will help exhibition curators demonstrate the toys of Aboriginal children in the Toy Stories section of First Peoples. For scale and context, children’s objects are best shown in the hands of children– so we needed to model some hands for this important task. Myee was willing to let us borrow her hands for the job.

Girl having her hands moulded Myee with her dad, Will, sitting very still and waiting patiently as museum preparators make a mould of her hands.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This pink goo, or alginate, is most commonly used by dentists to make impressions of teeth. It’s non-toxic, flexible when set, and smells just like a dentist’s office! It’s also extremely fast-setting so the preparators mixed it up as quickly as possible and poured it over Myee’s hands as she held the poses needed to demonstrate the objects in use.

Two men stirring pink mixture Preparators Pete and Steven in a stirring frenzy as they mix up the pink goo as quickly as they can!
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Myee’s first job was to hold her hands as if cradling a baby, to support a clay doll from Milingimbi in Arnhem Land in the 1930s. The second time round, Myee held a fragment of lignum as if she’d just flicked a mudswitch, a popular game among children growing up along the Murray River.

Pete and Myee with the mould Pete and Myee with the freshly-set mould of her hands.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Myee did an excellent job of staying completely still while the alginate set. Once it was solid – and you can tell this because the colour changes from purple, to pink, through to white –  Myee carefully wriggled out of the mould, leaving behind an exact impression of her hands.

plastic tubs of liquid plaster Mixing up the plaster ready to pour into the mould. This is a special mix of plaster and cement that sets extremely hard.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Minutes after her hands were free, the preparators filled the moulds with hard-setting liquid plaster. A few hours later, they extracted the casts. The preps will remove any rough bits and prepare the casts for their important job of display. And in years to come, when Myee visits with her school or family, she can point out to her friends how she lent us a hand (or two)!

Removing the cast hands from mould Preparators Brendan and Pete carefully removing the cast of Myee's hands from the mould. This model will support the clay doll.
Source: Museum Victoria

cast of hand A cast of Myee's hand holding a piece of twig. The process that the museum's preparators use captures every skin wrinkle and tiny detail.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

MV News: Will Patten "Talking to everybody"

MV Blog: Mudswitches on the plaza

Kooyang diorama in First Peoples

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
22 March 2013
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Comments (3)

The Kooyang ('eels' in the Gunditjmara family of languages) section of the upcoming First Peoples exhibition will feature an eel trap in a diorama of Western District eel-farming practice. The trap, woven from puung'ort (spear grass) by Gunditjmara woman Jody-Ann Agnew, tells the story of one of the world’s oldest aquaculture systems.

eel model And this is what it's all about - eels. This is one of several eels created for the diorama.
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Museum designers, curators, photographers and preparators have worked closely with Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Corporation to capture a slice of the Western District, complete with animals, plants and terrain typical of this area. The models and specimens of eels and other wildlife created by Dean Smith and Kym Haines are dazzlingly true-to-life, including a leech that Kym modelled from the little sucker that hunted him down when Jody's mother, senior weaver Aunty Eileen Alberts, took museum staff to Tyrendarra!

Dean with fish models Preparator Dean Smith holding models of native fish that he made for the Kooyang diorama. One is an unfinished cast, the other is fully painted.
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Steven Sparrey and Brendon Taylor are recreating the volcanic boulders of the Tyrendarra lava flow thrown out by Budj Bim (Mt Eccles) thousands of years ago. Gunditjmara people used these rocks to create an ingenious network of ponds, channels and dams to farm the eels. Aunty Eileen and Jody will oversee the final stages of the diorama construction.

Brendan Taylor working Preparator Brendan Taylor working on replicating the rocky terrain of the Western District.
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

First Peoples opens at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum on 7 September 2013.

Links:

Media News: Taking the eel-path to a shared history

Video: Lake Condah, Gunditjmara Country

Waa and the Seven Sisters

Author
by John Patten
Publish date
11 January 2013
Comments
Comments (3)

John Patten is a Bundjalung / Yorta Yorta man on his father's side, and a descendant of First Fleet convicts via his mother. An educator and artist, he takes great joy in sharing knowledge with visitors to Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre.

This summer Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum presents a follow-up to our successful Tiddalik the Thirsty Frog theatre show, with a local Kulin creation story – Waa and the Seven Sisters.

  woman in wig Nikki Ashby performing as the Seventh Sister.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The story tells how the Kulin peoples (the traditional owners of Melbourne and surrounding areas) were given the secret of fire by their creator, Bunjil, who often takes the form of an eagle. The story focuses on how the gift of fire was given to seven old women, who instead of sharing with the rest of the Kulin decided to keep fire for themselves. Thus, the Kulin's protector Waa (the Crow) conjured a plan to ensure the secret of fire is shared with everyone.

Woman in bird costume Uraine Mastrosavas performing as Waa the Crow.
Source: Museum Victoria

The show's cast this year are Uraine Mastrosavas, who we are very pleased to have back with us, after having been part of last year's Tiddalik the Thirsty Frog shows, and Nikki Ashby, an actor, dancer and choreographer. The show is directed by Michael Camilleri.

Theatre set with purple lights A dramatic moment on the set of Waa and the Seven Sisters.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Audiences are a major part of the show, making up part of the cast and interacting with the performers both on and off stage. There is plenty of music, singing, laughing and dancing.

boy in bird mask A young member of the audience performing as Jert-Jert.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre also has a free summer activity running in the Birrarung gallery where children and their families can make and colour in their own Bunjil the Wedge-tailed Eagle glider, decorated with traditional Victorian Koorie art motifs, to take home.

Waa and the Seven Sisters runs until 28 January at 11:00 AM, noon and 1:00pm, every day except Saturdays. Adults $10, children $5, MV Members receive discount admission.

Links:

What's On: Waa and the Seven Sisters 

Melbourne Museum School Holiday Program

Consulting with Gupapuyngu community

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
17 October 2012
Comments
Comments (1)

Bark paintings present particular conservation challenges for museums and over many years, conservators have developed low-impact techniques to stabilise objects at risk of deterioration. However these objects often have deep cultural and spiritual significance to the people who created them, and any alteration to an object – including conservation treatments – may forever affect its meaning.

This issue has fascinated MV conservator Samantha Hamilton since her Mellon fellowship at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in 2005. For around two decades, NMAI conservators have worked closely with communities to better understand the cultural implications of preservation. "Involving traditional owners provides meaningful insights into the creation and appearance of cultural materials," says Sam. "This allows conservators to make clearer ethical treatment decisions."

Two significant bark paintings in the Donald Thomson Collection needed considerable conservation treatment, which meant they were not included in the travelling exhibition Ancestral Power and the Aesthetic. Given the long-standing relationship between senior curator Lindy Allen and the Arnhem Land communities from which anthropologist Donald Thomson collected the paintings, here was an opportunity to work closely with the cultural owners of the works. Sam and Lindy began consulting with direct relatives of the original artists last year and visited Milingimbi Island to discuss these particular conservation issues. This consultation project has received funding from the University of Melbourne and the Copland Foundation.

Two men with bark painting Artist George Milaybuma Gaykamangu and his brother Dr Joseph Neparrnga Gumbula holding a small bark painting made to show traditional painting techniques.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

During the first week of October, Gupapuyngu Elder and Indigenous scholar, Dr Joseph Neparrnga Gumbula and his brother, artist George Milaybuma Gaykamangu (Milay), came to Melbourne to exchange knowledge about how the paintings were made and how they should be preserved. In return Sam demonstrated various ways to consolidate paint and stabilise bark so that Joe and Milay could decide on appropriate treatments. Says Sam, "the concept of preservation or conservation treatment is quite foreign to the Gupapuyngu because theirs is a living culture and they're actively painting these designs. Joe has said, 'if this was back at home, we'd just bury it and make another one.'"

Men and woman testing glue on bark Conservator Samantha Hamilton demonstrating a conservation technique on some samples of bark.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Sam had many questions for Joe and Milay. "There is a layer of meaning in each brushstroke, so if we directly apply adhesive to consolidate the paint, are we altering its cultural meaning? Is it better to document the painting with detailed photographs and leave it untouched? Also, these designs are body patterns worn only by men, so should female conservators be treating them?"

During the visit, Milay demonstrated the traditional techniques used by the original creators of the paintings. He ground and mixed charcoal, white clay and two types of ochre with water to prepare the paint. He also fashioned paintbrushes from grass stems and showed Sam and Lindy how djalkurrk (orchid stem) was used to bind only the background paint layer to the bark. Sam was particularly fascinated to learn this, as it was common understanding that the binder was used with every paint layer.

traditional Yolgnu painting materials Milay's painting kit: lumps of ochre and charcoal, grass stem paintbrushes and orchid, all brought to Melbourne from Arnhem Land.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria

Hands applying ochre to bark Milay demonstrating how orchid stem is used to apply a background layer of rich red ochre to the bark slab.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

After seeing Sam's demonstrations, Joe and Milay advised that a technique called misting would be acceptable to the Gupapuyngu community and that no direct application of adhesive should be performed with a paintbrush. They also approved conservation's technique of stabilising split bark and agreed that Sam was the right person to perform the treatment.

Sam hopes that this project will have lasting impact. "MV conservators have consulted with community in the past and it's becoming more common around the world. Where possible, I'd like to see it continue as an ongoing practice especially with our Victorian Indigenous objects and the Koorie community." During the Bunjilaka redevelopment project Sam has been consulting with the Yulendj reference group, and is very excited about collaborating with Yorta Yorta Elders to determine a long term preservation plan for the historic possum skin cloak.

Links:

Ancestral Power and the Aesthetic is at the Albury Art Gallery until 18 November 2012

MV Blog: Ancestral Power opens in Benalla

MV News: Ancestral Power and the Aesthetic

NMAI Conservation Outreach

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