Connecting to Community
Navigating spaces between cultural heritage and Indigenous source communities, involves engaging in relationships that are dedicated to enhancing the life and meaning of cultural collections. Engagement begins with the Indigenous source community. The significance in what is not seen, but is constantly present in stories, knowledges, traditions, perspectives and customs transcends time, and is crucial to ensure the physical security and intellectual and cultural essence of cultural heritage is retained and sustained (McCarthy, C, 2011).
Cultural sustainability involves understanding, awareness and sensitivity to cultural differences. It privileges intrinsic aspects of Indigenous culture, where orality, collaboration and community life is at its centre. Changing the focus by placing people at the centre, acknowledges and respects the cultural autonomy of Indigenous peoples, and, the right to self-determination through practices that recognise and respect Indigenous knowledge’s, cultural diversity and traditional practices (McCann, E, 2020 unpublished research).
The role of source communities in the care and management of cultural heritage, is a process that actively acknowledges the connections between cultural material, and the natural world, therefore access to cultural heritage is also integral to cultural maintenance and community wellbeing. A more sensitive approach, does away with rigidity and opens up space for more honest, authentic interaction, and robust, relevant and respectful conversation. It also removes the distance between all involved and humanises conservation practice. People-centred conservation, starts from the community in the decision-making processes; working from the centre outwards, through interaction that elevates Indigenous perspectives, and emphasises ‘ways of doing’ with relevance to ancient practices and unique epistemologies. (EMcC July 2020)
References and recommended reading
UN General Assembly, “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s”, 2 October, 2007.
Member Case Studies
● Hamilton, S & Paton, S 2015, ‘Boorun’s Canoe’, AICCM Bulletin, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 105–115.
An art project which involves the building and floating of a traditional bark canoe is chronicled. The conservator worked with the Aboriginal Elder and his family members from the beginning of the process through to the acquisition of the canoe by Museum Victoria and the relationship extended into the continued care of this heritage object. The project enabled the intergenerational transfer of cultural knowledge and demonstrated the positive outcomes of respectful and culturally sensitive collaboration with Indigenous communities.
● McCann, E, 2020, Guidelines for engaging with Moana-Wan Solwara Collections at Museum Victoria, unpublished research.
● McCarthy, C, 2011, Museums and Māori: Heritage Professionals, Indigenous Collections, Current Practice, Te Papa Press, Wellington NZ.
● Meredith, A, Sloggett, R & Healy, J 2016, ‘Reconstructing the archive: Access, documentation, conservation’, AICCM Bulletin, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 14–25.
Two case studies based on research conducted by phenomenological methodology are presented. The artist-run archive of Warlayirti Artists’ Centre in Balgo and the performative works of the Australian artist Brook Andrew aim to disrupt the hegemony of text-based colonial archives to reclaim control of Indigenous subjectivities. Reconstruction is put forward as an ethical conservation approach in the preservation of such performative artworks and archives. Key to this approach is the artist interview tool which helps to incorporate the artist’s view of reconstruction to the conservation process.
● Nolan, L 2018, ‘Bark paintings conservation: Eucalyptus tetrodonta properties, bark harvesting and various mounting systems in the Northern Territory’, AICCM Bulletin, vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 96–106.
A review of the evolution of the bark painting mounting methods that are developed and/or used by the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) is provided. The review references the traditional bark harvesting and preparation processes demonstrated by traditional owners. The aluminium mounting technique is recommended based on the traditional knowledge of the qualities of the bark.
● Waters-Lynch, I, Sloggett, R, Crocombe, M & Melpi, L 2015, ‘The Significance of Continuity and Change: Understanding and Preserving Aboriginal Catholic Church Art in Wadeye’, AICCM Bulletin, vol. 36, no. 1, pp. 13–22.
This case study highlights the broader challenges in conserving art held in remote Indigenous communities. Funding for the conservation of Indigenous artworks which are at risk of irreversible deterioration is very much dependent on these works fulfilling the primary and comparative criteria of the Significance 2.0 framework. The article discusses the limitations of this framework in the context of the Old Church Paintings by the Indigenous artist Nym Bunduck.