Chicago is fortunate to have been the only United States stop on Bangarra Dance Theatre’s 2019 tour. In preparation for their November 22nd and 23rd performances at the Harris Theater, FM hosted a panel discussion on November 19th between artistic director Steven Page, dancer Elma Kris, and Regenstein Curator John Terrell.
Before and after the talk, attendees were invited to view three specially selected Australian items from the Museum’s collection. Members of Bangarra selected two bark paintings with the help of Will Stubbs of the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala: Possum Tree Story by Narritjin Maymuru (c. 1916-1981) and Djambuwal, Master of the Storms and His Spear by Larrtjaƞa Ganambarr (1932-2000.) Maymuru and Ganambarr were both artists from Yolngu country, an area that inspired much of Bangarra’s current programming.
The paintings are part of the Louis A. Allen collection. Allen was something of an amateur anthropologist, travelling across Australia with the intent to meet artists and record their stories, while also collecting their work. Allen helped to revive interest in Aboriginal art in Australia with the publication of his book Time Before Morning. He eventually sold much of his collection to the Australian government and 13 pieces came to the Field Museum, of which 12 are bark paintings. They were last exhibited in 1972, when they were donated to the Field.
The third item on display was a shield, likely from Victoria. Museum staff chose this item to represent one of the “mysteries” of the collection, an object with very little information associated with it -- but one we hope community members and researchers may one day fill in the blanks for and help us solve.
Over 12 weeks this fall, the 2019 Regenstein Pacific interns were hard at work treating and housing the Museum’s large collection of woven mats from the Pacific. As part of this multi-year project, Regenstein interns Mackenzie Fairchild (Marist College - Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici) and Kristin Cimmerer (University of Michigan) were supervised by Regenstein Conservator JP Brown in the creation of new archival storage mounts for over 230 mats. They were able to complete the re-rolling of mats from Micronesia, over half of the mats from Polynesia, and began work on the collections from the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
The collections care provided by this project is crucial for the well-being and long-term preservation of the collections cared for by the Field: on their new storage mounts within the Collections Resource Center, the collection of mats will be better protected from dust and physical strain, as well as be more easily accessible to researchers and practitioners. Fairchild and Cimmerer also photographed each piece, another important step in increasing visibility and digital accessibility of these items.
During his recent visit to the Marshall Islands, collections manager Chris Philipp was able to share information and images with the Marshallese community on Majuro. In recent years the art form has experienced a resurgence in the Islands and weavers are increasingly interested in reconnecting with Museum collections so they can study examples of this work from their predecessors.
Archaeology as a modern science only reached the South Pacific in the wake of World War II. Before then, everyone's understanding of Pacific prehistory was grounded on misleading European ideas about race and alleged racial migrations "out of Asia." Recently, human molecular geneticists have begun to turn their gaze toward Oceania and its inhabitants. The results published so far leave a great deal to be desired--as Regenstein Curator John Terrell surveyed last year in Scientific American. In April 2019, Antony Funnell at the Australian Broadcasting Company interviewed Terrell about the use and misuse of human genetics. In particular, Funnell asked him to explain why he feels it isn't necessarily a wise idea to send off a sample of your spit to a commercial genetics laboratory in hopes of discovering the secrets allegedly hidden in your DNA about your personal ancestry and future prospects for a good, healthy life. Listen to the program here.