Australia: the Vatican Museums Indigenous collection

Thursday, 7 December 2017
Australia: The Vatican Museum’s Indigenous Collection
Australia: The Vatican Museum’s Indigenous Collection

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) publishing arm, Aboriginal Studies Press (ASP) and the Vatican Museums will launch the co-publication Australia: the Vatican Museums Indigenous collection, on Thursday 7 December, 2017.

Drawn primarily from three areas, the Kimberley region, New Norcia and the Tiwi Islands, the collection shown in the catalogue includes materials not exhibited before in Australia, one of the earliest known set of Pukumani poles from Melville and Bathurst Islands, and more recent contributions of artworks and cultural objects.

AIATSIS Chairperson Professor Michael McDaniel said the process taken to reconnect these cultural forms with their communities of origin is particularly significant.

“Through the process of reconnection, conversations emerged between generations about the importance of land, Law and culture, and the preservation of heritage and cultural continuity,” Professor McDaniel said.

“In sharing the story of the Vatican Museums Indigenous collection, the Vatican Museums and AIATSIS have identified a shared interest in promoting dialogue and raising awareness of the richness and diversity of our cultures.”

Director of the Vatican Museums Barbara Jatta said the Australia catalogue is an example of successful collaboration and interconnections born through cultural contact.

“Through the process of creating the catalogue, the objects were brought alive again by ‘reconnection’ with local knowledge and current meaning, they became active in preserving cultural heritage from the past for the future,” Ms Jatta said.

“Representatives from the museum followed a process of collaboration to trace the objects back to the communities they had originated from, to consult with the cultural custodians today and, through photos of the objects, culturally resituate them with their heritage.”

Objects featured in the catalogue are today exhibited in a special exhibition space in the Pope’s Museums in Vatican City dedicated to valuing and learning about the cultural heritage of Australia. It is one of the museum’s most visited exhibitions.

Pedro Wonaeamirri travelled from Melville Island, part of the Tiwi Islands off the coast of the Northern Territory, to represent his community at the catalogue launch.

“It is a great honour, a great privilege,” said Mr Wonaeamirri about the pukumani poles being on display in the Vatican Museums. We would love more of your people to come and learn about my culture.”

Australia: the Vatican Museums Indigenous collection ($40 RRP) is available January 2018.

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Last reviewed: 31 Jul 2018