Encountering cultural material in museum collections: An Indigenous perspective




Andrews, Jilda Alice

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Navigating cultural collections in museums can be a particular and challenging task. Indigenous cultural objects in museum collections all over the world are widely understood as having been removed from their Indigenous contexts and placed within new structures, given new meanings, within new hierarchies of value in systems associated with the colonial imperative. Therefore, for Indigenous Australians, the continuing consequences of such histories, ensure that encounters with cultural material from their communities are also encounters with these different hierarchies of value; they are encounters with uneven relationships of power in which they find themselves or their families implicated, and possibly even encounters with a contemporary reluctance to engage with difficult histories. This thesis critically examines my encounters with collected cultural material associated with my country—Yuwaalaraay country, the inland freshwater region of north western New South Wales. These encounters are explored in relation to key postcolonial frameworks including museums as contact zones (Pratt 1992; Clifford 1997), as well as cultural interface theory (Nakata 2002, 2007). Through these lenses, and by drawing on an adapted form of autoethnography, I explore sites of agency and potential, as well as probe limitations brought about by persistently defining the relationships between museums and source communities as dichotomous–the ultimate colonial legacy of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. Finally, inspired by European studies of folklife, my research invites a reconsideration of historical Indigenous cultural material in collections not as relics of the past, but as products of everyday life and experience, fundamentally grounded by a uniquely Indigenous Australian consideration of the concept of ‘country’.



Material culture, Australia, Anthropological museums and collections, Museum techniques, Museums and source communities, Historical museums, Museums, Management, Indigenous peoples, Ethnographic collections, Museum studies, Ethnological museums and collections in Australia, Aboriginal Australians




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