During a day trip to Canberra at the end of last year, we visited the National Museum to see the Encounters exhibition. We were going to drop in here for two hours then go on to the National Gallery to see the Tom Roberts show, but the Encounters show kept us riveted until we had to pull our selves away to drive back to Sydney.
The exhibition shows 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects from the collection of the British Museum. There is come controversy surrounding how these objects were originally acquired and whether or not they should be returned to Australia permanently.
The exhibition is well put together including objects that are from Australian collections interspersed with very moving video interviews. The exhibition does nothing to try hide or gloss over the controversy and the questionable tactics of explorers and settlers as they collected these objects. The oldest pieces are from James Cook's arrival in 1770 including a shield which has what appears to be a bullet hole in it, following a confrontation at Botany Bay in April 1770.
The photo above is of a Jawun (bicornual basket) (Photo by Dave Hickson)
Collected from Rockingham Bay by John Davidson in 1866-68
Made by The Rainforest Peoples of Rockingham Bay. Woven out of Lawyer Cane and used to carry food. Larger ones were sometimes used to carry children.
Read more about the Jawun here:
I was looking up other examples of this basket and found a smaller one (about 25cm high and wide) that Sotheby’s had sold last year for 6875 british pounds. It seems strange that pieces collected in Australia in the 19th century are on the private auction market.
There was also a panel discussion that was aired on the ABC’s Big Ideas that has some fascinating perspectives on the show. Well worth listening at the link below:
The exhibition is on until 28 March 2016 and is free.
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