Blog

Cultural Collections at the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival

By: Ms Thelma Thomas, Keren Ruki, Dion Peita, Mr Logan Metcalfe, Mrs Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman, Category: Science, Date: 16 May 2013

In April, we attended the CPAF in Melbourne to explore new Pacifica social and cultural initiatives being championed in the state.

Cultural Collections at the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival #3

Yvonee Carillo and Dion Pieta © Australian Museum

Over the two days we participated in:

  • An Aboriginal welcome to country ceremony presented by members of the Kulin nation
  • Panel discussions which explored Oceanic Art in Australia, Arts practice, and new innovations from established and emerging Pacifica artists
  • Cultural customs including a Maori whakatau (ritual of encounter) provided by the local Maori diaspora, as well as
  • Prayer offered by members of the Samoan diasporic community.

What happened at the Festival?

The event featured two exhibitions (Meleponi Pasifika and New Way - Ta Aro Huri huri), performances and various workshops, including bilum making, hula (Cook Island dance), weaving and toi haka (Maori performing arts) for all ages. This was a fantastic opportunity to take in the new innovative works created by the artists.

One of the highlights was the CPAF forum, bringing together critical thinkers, Oceanic artisans based in Australia, and industry professionals to actively work to improve a Pacifica voice and Arts in an Australian context. The program that involved Thelma Thomas as a co-presenter discussed:

  • Addressing the Archive – Pacific collections in Australian museums and galleries
  • Who Will Claim Me – Authenticity and identity in contemporary art of the Pacific diaspora
  • Mobilizing Pasifika – Intersections of art, activism and community.

What else did we participate in?

Thelma spoke passionately about how the Australian Museum is spearheading the Pacific Youth Reconnection project (PYRP) to engender culture and identity in young marginalized Pacific youth in NSW through use of the Pacific collections. "This was a great opportunity to highlight the ground-breaking work that we have been engaged in with Pacific young people," said Thelma.

It was acknowledged that Australian museums and art galleries can play a major role in strengthening this cultural experience and be an inspiration for further research in creative arts. Members of the panel shared their personal experiences coming into contact with the Australian Museum’s cultural collections.

There was a general consensus on the benefits of having a physical engagement, viewing cultural objects and facilitating access to our valuable historical archive:

It is important to bring these objects back to the community. There are many cultural objects in museums that we have never seen before, and need to be on a conversation table to be accessed and inspire us all at many levels.
- Sana Balai, Assistant Curator, National Gallery of Victoria

How was our participation received?

The model that we're promoting through the PYRP is best summed up by Sana, a key Pacific Arts identity in Melbourne:

Young artists and kids with Pacific Islander heritage here in Melbourne and Australia need our support, it is very important for those of us in institutions, museums, galleries, and communities at large to show them support, guidance and mentorship.

Your institution {Australian Museum] is leading the way by engaging with Pacific Islander communities in Sydney and overseas in working on projects. It was very important for us (and those who attended the forum) to hear about it from you and your staff.

It was extra special to have Thelma as part of the panel. Hopefully other institutions will learn from your positive approach to engaging with Pacific Islander people and re-connecting them with cultural material held in museums and galleries.

Museums and galleries are often seen by Indigenous peoples (our people included) as a ‘place where our cultural material is stored away’. Whilst that may have been the case in the past, positive changes are definitely happening.

But in order for these changes to truly benefit the people which these cultural material originate and institutions which houses objects, we need to work together to make it happen. For me, it is very important to remember that our future lies with these young men and women - our contemporary artists because they are the ones who will carry forward the legacy of Pacific or Oceanic art and culture.

It is also very important that we show these young people leadership, guidance and mentorship as they navigate their way through life in finding their niche, place and themselves in their new homeland – Australia.

"Such positive feedback strengthens the ongoing commitment to actively working in a multitude of domains with cultural collections as the ‘centre point’ for Pacific projects connecting ‘people and objects’," said Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman.

"It was great to share the successes of the Pacific Youth Reconnection project and I look forward to strengthening our relationships with the Melbourne based Pacific communities and highlighting potential synergies for the future," said Thelma.