All images courtesy of Chris McHugh, Artist and Researcher at University of Sunderland – With thanks
Chantal and I have just returned from a 2 day conference and workshop at Cambridge University as part of the Pacific Presences: Oceanic Art and European Museums research project. This five year project, funded by the European Research Council, involves research of Pacific collections in museums across Europe.
Following an opening conference dinner held in Corpus Christi College the first day of the conference included presentations from international speakers from Norway, Palau, New Zealand, Hawai’i and New Caledonia as well as papers from the project team and those affiliated with the project in the UK. The conference culminated in a panel discussion that looked at the role of cultural heritage in the Pacific, the dispersal of collections, and on-going work to facilitate community access to collections.
In the evening was a performance at Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) by Michael Mel from the Western Highlands province of Papua New Guinea. Michael is a performance artist, teacher and writer and is currently an Associate Professor in Indigenous Art and Education at the University of Goroka. His performance involved Ali Clark of the Pacific Presences project and Anita Herle, Senior Curator for World Anthropology at MAA. It was a moving piece that took place in the world cultures gallery. It commented on the place of both people from Papua New Guinea and their cultural heritage in European museums. As well as reflecting on the complex and sometimes difficult history of the European relationship with Papua New Guinea, the performance revealed something of the issues facing the country today.
We had the opportunity afterwards to view ‘Tapa: Barkcloth paintings from the Pacific’, an exhibition of barkcloth including historical pieces from the Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, and Fiji. There were two contemporary works by women of the Omie community of Papua New Guinea, acquired in 2012 with the support of the Art Fund.
The workshop on the second day focused on recent collections research carried out on material in some of the museums involved in the Pacific Presences project. I was particularly interested in a paper by Elena Gover of Australia National University looking at tahi poniu neck ornaments of wood decorated with abrus seeds from the Marquesas Islands as there is one of these in the collection at National Museum Scotland. I also found a paper given by Maia Nuku of the Pacific Presences project focused on material from Nauru a small island in Micronesia fascinating. Maia opened her presentation with a video of Marshallese poet and writer Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner reading her moving poem ‘Tell them’. You can find that video here on Kathy’s blog: http://jkijiner.wordpress.com/video-poems/
This conference gave us an opportunity to find out more about the Pacific Presences project and ongoing international work with Pacific material. It also gave us a chance to consider the place of collections held in Scottish museums in the context of a much wider network of people, places and things.
You can find out more about the Pacific Presences project here: http://pacificpresences.org/