Episode 5 – Module 2: Indigeneity III – Anthropology Museum with Diana Young


Diana: How can museum-collected things combat
their objectification, the denial of their humanity and agency both, that writing on
implies? These things have become, with the appropriation of their written-on skins, something
new that embodies their history of transit. In their labeled state, they cannot go backwards
and become purified. On their surface is a record of colonial history that is not just
Australia’s but is echoed in different yet similar ways in museum collections all over
the world. In this exhibition, “written on the body,”
through the ricochet of relationships between kitchen implements and the museum collection,
with its layers of information, we want to destabilize and remake the spaces between
things. Gerhard: We’re in the Anthropology Museum
at the University of Queensland here with Dr. Diana Young, the director and curator—co-curator
of this show, “written on the body.” This show is all about different tableaux that
we’ll be seeing in a second, juxtapositions, tableaux of different objects in relationship
to other objects. A lot of it is based on your understanding of material culture. Now,
in a nutshell, in the three seconds that we have, how would you define material culture? Diana: Well, things—that is, material culture—things
make people, and people make things. There’s always this mutual relationship between them.
They mutually constitute each other. Okay, I think this is probably my number one
favorite thing almost in the whole collection. I’m very glad that it’s in this exhibition.
It turns out to be made some time prior to 1917. It was collected by a Brisbane collector
called Samuel Cameron, who was also an auctioneer. We know that he died in 1917. In the middle of the 20th century, it was
collected by Dr. Winterbotham. I think it’s Dr. Winterbotham or one of his signers who’s
written “modern Aboriginal axe” on it and given it a number. It’s a new steel axe blade that’s been incorporated
into a traditional timber handle. It’s been stuck in using resin just in the way that
axe heads normally are, perhaps from spinifex or from some tree gum. Clearly, it would have
been a very prized item by somebody. It’s next to an axe which is more—it’s just a
traditional one with a stone head to it. Again, thinking about what these new materials
made possible, what sort of transformation in social life did this fantastic axe make
possible? I suppose the word modern also is interesting because probably it was written
on there in about 1950 when the word modern meant something different to the way it does
now. “Modern Aboriginal axe” is quite poetic really. Some of these kitchen implements are so worn
because they’ve been held by hands, sweaty hands, making the pastry for years and years
and years. There’s that trace; there’s that connection there between the human being and
the thing. Then you have to say, “Well, does that thing help to make that human being,
in fact? Does that help to make you and your identity and your memories?” Thinking about the equivalence of things about
the Aboriginal collection things and the cooking ware, some of these do have correspondence.
This tableau here is about water and different ways to carry water in some ways. It’s also
about the relationship between forms. The very deep bowl in the corner is a bowl for
carrying water that you have on your head so that it wouldn’t spill so much. This beautiful
shallow dish with the writing on just under the mirrors there is from the Kimberley Region
of Western Australia. It’s a winnowing dish. This is another one where you might think
about the relationship between the different sorts of things. This is an egg saucepan that
has been in my family as long as I’ve been alive, I think. It’s ended up with a little
egg rack and some salt and a storage jar and a soufflé dish with these two beautiful clubs,
which are from Queensland. It’s a bit of a soufflé tableau that one. This one here could be about making cakes.
There’s lots of stone tools that have got very bold red Roman numerals on them with
these fantastic aluminum cake tins and a saucepan lid. It’s about different things that go on
in a kitchen, different actions, different ways of making food, and the different relationships
between those things.