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Seattle Art Museum returns sacred object to Australia

30 JUNE 2009

Secret/sacred objects of the type being returned are typically used in religious ceremonies by central Australian Aboriginal men. They are considered to be physical manifestations of sacred ancestral beings and as such have great spiritual power.

The National Museum of Australia has been providing advice and assistance to the Seattle Art Museum and will store the object temporarily while consultations proceed regarding its final repatriation.

"The National Museum of Australia is honoured to have been able to assist in this way. The Seattle Art Museum has shown great responsibility, as well as compassion and respect for Aboriginal culture, in deciding to repatriate this object. It is to be commended for its initiative and leadership," said Craddock Morton, Director of the National Museum of Australia.

According to custom, central Australian mens' secret/sacred objects are not allowed to be viewed by uninitiated men, or women and children. Their public display is a cause of great distress to Aboriginal elders, who have been seeking their return for many years.

The object was first collected in 1970, and has been in the Seattle Art Museum's collections since 1971 but has never been publicly exhibited.

"We appreciate The National Museum of Australia's guidance through this return process," said Maryann Jordan, Seattle Art Museum's Interim Director. "The Seattle Art Museum is one of the few places in the U.S. for Australian Aboriginal art to be seen and discussed. We have a deep respect for Aboriginal heritage and understand the importance of this object to the culture that created it. We are proud to return it to its rightful home."

The Director of the National Museum of Australia's Repatriation Program, Dr Michael Pickering, said that the object will be housed in a restricted store while the Museum consults with central Australian Elders and their representatives to determine the culturally appropriate management and return of the object.

For interviews, images and more information please contact Dennis Grant on
02 6208 5351, 0409 916 481; Caroline Vero on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710 or media@nma.gov.au

Seattle Art Museum: Cara Egan (206) 748-9285; or Nicole Griffin (206) 654-3158 or PR@SeattleArtMuseum.org