"Look, Listen and Feel": The first peoples exhibition at the Bunjilaka Gallery, Melbourne Museum
chapterposted on 01.01.2014, 00:00 authored by Andrea WitcombAndrea Witcomb
In 1997, James Clifford used a contact zone perspective to argue for the need to work towards a collaborative museum practice that recognized the politics of practices of knowledge exchange between museums and indigenous communities. In his view, it was only by recognizing these politics that museums could reverse their traditional mode of knowledge production, one based on extraction of knowledge from source communities, and, in the process, develop a new, more ethical relationship with these communities in ways that recognized not only what they were being given but what they must also give in return. In this article, I look at the latest instance of this practice in Australia by reviewing the new permanent exhibition in Bunjilaka at the Melbourne Museum branch of Museum Victoria, an exhibition called First Peoples. I am particularly concerned with understanding how the importance of establishing a deep collaborative practice between the museum and indigenous communities in Victoria led to an exhibition in which the Museum accepted the challenge to rethink its own practices in relation to who had power to determine what stories were told and how objects were interpreted but also accepted the wider challenge to allow the museum space to become a vehicle for indigenous perspectives on settlement history and its consequent impact on indigenous/settler relations. In particular, I want to show how dealing with contact history from a perspective of indigenous culture helped to build a “pedagogy of feeling” which created a space for indigenous and non-indigenous people to come together in the hope of building a shared future.