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Intervening Archives of Oceania


Maggie Wander, Marion Cadora

Session presentation

This panel looks at innovative, trans-disciplinary, and trans-oceanic methods and theories working to center Pacific perspectives in the study of art and culture from Oceania. These approaches destabilize previously fragmented archives which are products of colonial and imperial legacies. Our framing of the archive is broadly understood as a collection of documents, images, records, including museum collections, literature, and artworks. However, we are interested in expanding the archive to include local perspectives. Furthermore, we pursue thinkers whose work defies accepted national and cartographic boundaries to take into account migratory and cross-cultural experiences across oceans/continents. Interdisciplinary readings of the archive open up spaces and bridge gaps between disciplines that combat inequality in the academy when it comes to studying/knowing Oceania. We are interested in presentations by graduate students and emerging thinkers who are using these gaps in creative ways. We are open to art historians, literary scholars, historians, anthropologists, artists, curators, performers who question dominant narratives and representational strategies that perpetuate how one comes to “know” Oceania.

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Muddling the Museum: Presence, intervention and being de-colonial

Alice Procter (University College London)

n the shadow of Fred Wilson’s Mining The Museum, what does it mean to intervene in a museum collection? We may no longer consider them neutral, but their status as post- or de-colonised is still questionable. A museum collection is as much about what it chooses to neglect as what it contains. In exploring these negative spaces, the silenced voices and absent bodies they suggest, we can begin to work through legacies of violence and attempt to restore the lost to their rightful place. Artists who work with and against the narratives enshrined by selective collecting can contest the space simply by being present. By feeling rage, confronting loss, and treating the museum as a place for mourning and commemoration, audiences can be encouraged to examine their own histories and identities. Instead of mining, the artist can muddle, unsettling and interrupting what is taken for granted.
This paper examines artist-led curatorial practices that engage with contested histories of empire, seeking new approaches to memory and legacies of trauma through ritual, intervention and performance. Drawing on the work of Rosanna Raymond and SaVAge K’lub, it examines the potential of an artist-led curatorial practice in developing a post-colonial museology. What does it mean to be archived, or collected, by these spaces? How can the act of being there disturb and expand myths of national identity in the wake of imperial violence? And what are the implications for our archival futures?

Placing belonging in historical Methodist mission spaces

Bronwyn Shepherd (Deakin University)

This paper explores placing belonging in historical spaces. My research centres on the experiences, interactions and practices taking place on Milingimbi Methodist mission in North Australia, during the interwar years. This mission provides an interesting space to think about belonging, because this was a place that became home and deeply significant to Yolŋu people who lived or moved there, and who formed connections under settler colonial circumstances. It is also a site of non-Indigenous belonging, which included European and Fijian missionaries and anthropologists. I consider how attention across the breadth of archival material produced from these spaces, which includes material recorded by missionaries, anthropologists, and memoirs of descendants, enables a view to see these different forms of connection to a place as co-constitutive. This does not disregard unequal power relations in these places but it brings into view the co-production of forms of belonging that are not identical but are connected. Reading these accounts alongside one another—including looking at spaces between them, where they overlap and where they don’t—draws attention to the contexts and processes of their production. Such an approach offers a more nuanced understanding about Indigenous experiences which lies beyond the text and seeks to encourage rather than obscure encounters with mission history by those who continue to live and interact in these spaces.

Pacific Manuscripts Bureau: Fifty years of preserving and improving access to stories from the Pacific

Kari James (Australian National University)

The Pacific Manuscripts Bureau (PMB) was established in 1968 to assist scholars access primary documentation about the Pacific Islands. Sponsored and managed by an international consortium of libraries, PMB has been making preservation copies of manuscripts and rare printed materials about the Pacific for 50 years, and making them accessible to researchers by depositing microfilm copies in its sponsoring libraries.

While PMB exists within traditional institutions, it does so across institutional and geographic boundaries. Unlike traditional archives, constrained by legal deposit obligations and prescribed collecting policies, PMB copies materials across the region and across disciplines, gathering a range of voices, such as whalers, missionaries and scientists. The dominance of European voices in the archive, and the historical concentration of sponsoring libraries outside of the islands, undoubtedly effects who, how and what some come to know of the Pacific.

This paper will argue that PMB’s recent transition to digital enables the slow dismantling of some of these barriers, with libraries in thirteen Pacific Island countries now able to access PMB digital collections at reduced cost using their existing ICT infrastructure. Consequently, there is greater Pasifika representation in PMB’s management, creating new opportunities for community collaboration, improved access to stories told by Pacific voices and perhaps the shifting of perspectives.

Pacific Poetry: Archives for Liberation

Leora Kava (University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa)

In this presentation, I discuss contemporary Pacific poetry—with its roots in the reclamation of indigenous Pacific memory and ways of knowing—as an archive of Pacific Islander solidarities and negotiations for sovereignty and liberation. These relationships to freedom and sovereignty are expressed in poetry through explorations of land, water, home, movement, and belonging—themes which are always filtered through implicit and explicit negotiations of language and the epistemological work of poetry. I specifically look at work by Pacific poet/scholars Teresia Teaiwa, Epeli Hauʻofa, Albert Wendt, and Konai Helu Thaman in order to explore the way Pacific poetics creates spaces that deeply examine relationships between the poetic word and struggles for individual, national, and pan-Oceanic sovereignty. By looking to these Pacific writers and their poetics as archives of relationships between creative expression, connections to (is)lands and waters, and the creation of sovereign indigenous futures, I argue that we come to better understand the role of poetic archives as specific sites of ideas and action for freedom in Oceania.

“Film in the Pacific: When the subject becomes the storyteller”

Eliorah Malifae (Australian National University)

In his essay for The Contemporary Pacific (vol. 10, no. 2), ‘From Photons to Electrons: The Film Guide Moving Images of the Pacific Islands’, Alexander Mawyer notes how poorly understood the Pacific is on film. In this paper, the author will demonstrate what Pacific film and filmmaking is doing to reframe dominant narratives and representational strategies in the Pacific. The author will draw on their own knowledge and experience as Director of Pasifika Film Fest; working with a filmmaking community and observing the effect that developed strategic programs have had on the Pacific filmmaking community. The author will examine the work of Pacific film festivals in parts of the region to provide sustainable advocacy for filmic storytelling in the region and thus provide an infrastructure for the reframing of how Oceania is represented.

The author specifically will look at initiatives in Australia, New Zealand, the Cook Islands and Tonga.

Unruly digital archives: Knowing Oceania through Pacific Studies Facebook groups

Bianca Hennessy (Australian National University)

In this paper I take up the case of public Facebook groups dedicated to learning about the Pacific that are run by academics and students in Pacific Studies. While such groups don’t explicitly serve a preservation mission like a conventional archive might, they perform a parallel function: curating selected knowledge sources for use in understanding Oceania’s peoples, cultures, and histories.

A critical reading of these Facebook groups points towards shifting but deliberate assemblages of online media – especially those which subvert the boundaries of institutional and disciplinary formations. They disseminate knowledge across nation-state and institutional boundaries, opening up a radically accessible space for new forms of political discourse, cultural participation, and artistic expression. The result is a series of communally compiled depositories of online sources that speak to what Oceania is and could be.

I consider their significance as user-generated archives of Oceania, how the medium imbues discussion with a sense of perpetual contemporaneity, and how they serve as germinating vehicles for nascent approaches to knowing Oceania, especially approaches that amplify Pasifika perspectives. Considering Facebook groups as living digital archives helps us to discern an emerging discursive tilt in critical Oceanic thought and activism: that which elevates resistance, indigeneity, and community in the face of ever-escalating threats to the lifeworlds of Pacific Islanders.

Griots of the Southwest Pacific: Stringband Songs as a Chronicle

Sebastian T. Ellerich (University of Cologne)

While the collecting of material culture and documents over long time periods faces challenges in tropical and cyclone-ridden settings, oral traditions which play a crucial role in Melanesia are not affected by such constraints. The fact that the lyrics of stringband songs from Vanuatu have a strong reference to the realities of everyday life (in sharp contrast to the lyrics in pop music which are often ‘made up’) justifies considering the repertoire of stringbands as archives of contemporary history. Indeed, the genre proves effective in storing data as the repertoires are passed from one generation to the next and thus some groups occasionally play songs which date as far back as to World War II. Apart from some lyrics with little informative content (such as love songs or religious songs), many songs commemorate people or events of local or national importance and some lyrics address social problems and political issues. Many song texts begin with the naming of a date, thus providing the chronological context. Those songs composed for stringband competitions are meant to create awareness in the realms of education, health programmes, agricultural produce, development, tourism and the environment. Stringband music is meant to be performed in public, and successful groups produce albums and music clips which are publicly available (and thus, in principle, collectable). These texts have the great advantage of displaying the emic perspectives of the musicians/composers.