Rituals of Seduction: Birds of Paradise exhibition

Journey into the world of the Birds of Paradise. Explore their behavioural patterns and evolution and the challenges they face today.

Huli delegation from the Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea

Huli delegation from the Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea
Photographer: Stuart Humphreys © Australian Museum

The Exhibition

The exhibition is a stunning display from a selection of the museum’s collections (hyperlink collections being on display) from the Southern Highlands, Eastern Highlands and Western Highlands, including a variety of human hair wigs, feathered headdress, judge wigs, shells woven aprons, shell forehead ornaments and green ornaments.
It is a powerful exhibit that illustrates the intimate relationship between certain Papua New Guinea Highlands cultures and Birds of Paradise, relationships that may have developed over the past 40,000 years.

A collaborative project

The Australia Museum recognises the importance of developing this project in collaboration with Papua New Guinea cultural institutions and relevant community representatives to provide cultural advice and include people’s perspectives, which has included visually powerful images and film footage.

All aspects of the cultural component of this project have been developed with the consultation and participation of indigenous scholars from the University of Goroka staff (hyperlink Goroka University website) and Indigenous People from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

One of the highlights of the exhibition was the physical presence of a group of Papua New Guinea delegates who travelled to Sydney to attend the official opening and participate in a series of cultural and educational public programs with the museum’s audiences. This included public talks from Dr Michael Mel and a series of traditional performances from the Huli people of the Southern Highlands and a Chief from Minj, Waghi, Jiwaka Province wearing their traditional ‘bilas’ or elaborate customs, body decorations and headdresses decorated with Birds of Paradise plumes. 

Viewing the cultural collections

Another major highlight of the PNG delegation visit was the physical engagement with their cultural heritage held in the museum’s storage areas. This access enabled individuals from the Southern Highlands and Waghi to view for first time some cultural collections from their own areas. This physical engagement provided valuable interpretations of cultural objects which has enhance our knowledge of Highlands cultural material with important information such as changes in the production, utility and cultural relevance of these objects since the time of their original collection. Their knowledge has been a valuable contribution to a better understanding of past cultural practices that are continuously changing and an insight into how these collections came to the museum. 

A leading exhibition example for the 21st century Museums

Rituals of Seduction: Birds of Paradise has demonstrated the potential that museums have as platforms for dialogue, consultation, engagement and self-representation for Indigenous Peoples neighbours. It highlights the responsibilities that national cultural institutions have to actively involve the voices people with cultural initiatives. As holders of large cultural collections: museums, art galleries and other educational institutions are in a unique position to actively work in partnership with Indigenous scholars, cultural institutions and Community Representatives.

In light of the above this exhibition was presented with the International Council of Museums, Australia (ICOM) 2011 award for International Relations as well as the Museums and Galleries, NSW Imagine Awards, 2011 Highlighly recomended for the category of Exhibition and Public Engagement.

The Australian Museum would like to acknowledge the valuable contribution and generously time given to the development of this major project. The museum sincerely recognises the value of Papua New Guinea people’s traditional knowledge. The sharing of their narratives has been pivotal to the success of this exhibition.

Mrs Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman , Collections Officer
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