Yumari, by Uta Uta Tjangala, 1981

Class visit to the British Museum

Neil Mackie’s World cultural History II class spent an enjoyable and interesting session at the British Museum’s latest exhibition – Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilization.  The trip took place on Thursday 18th June and was made possible by generous funding by Student affairs, a big thanks from everyone to them.

The Exhibition has raised two big controversies amongst some commentators, the first over the use of the tern Civilization to describe indigenous Australian culture, the second over the ownership of objects in the exhibition and whether they should be returned to indigenous claimants.

Both of these debates relate centrally to the concerns of the course.  The first to the way rising empires of the early modern world defined themselves and denigrated those who they conquered during this period.  The second to the rise of collecting and cataloguing of exotic material culture in the grand new museums of the imperial metropoles.

As we circulated amongst the objects created in Australia over hundreds of years, which drew on references going back at least 40000 years, we could discuss these arguments while directly relating to the culture itself.  The discussion continued into class the following day with other cultural concerns being raised, like the ownership of the Elgin Marbles or artefacts created by Native American cultures.

The exhibition itself holds many beautiful objects both ancient and modern and continues into August, people should not miss this rare opportunity to see this collection of art; unless of course you are so engaged in the debate over ownership you have decided to boycott it.