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In Unsettled, five leading Indigenous Australian artists responded to the National Museum of Australia’s major exhibition, Encounters, which revealed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural material collected during the early years of European colonisation. Most of this material is part of the British Museum’s permanent collection.
The artists – Julie Gough, Jonathan Jones, Judy Watson, Elma Kris and Wukun Wanambi – produced unique works of art that provide a creative examination of objects on display in Encounters. Through their artworks, they interrogate the circumstances in which these objects were originally collected.
Early European collectors did not consider cultural knowledge as important or as collectible as the objects they removed from Country, with or without consent. So, tangible was separated from intangible as objects were pulled from their cultural webs of meaning, representation and spirit.
The Indigenous artists in this exhibition interpreted the material and re-established a link between the objects and their cultural context, enabling them to be truly embraced, honoured and understood.
Unsettled was a visual repatriation that inspirits, reanimates and encourages new contemplations of these precious objects.
Kelli Cole, consultant curator
Indigenous Artist Fellows
The five artists visited the British Museum as Indigenous Artist Fellows with the Engaging Objects research project, which was a key part of the Encounters project. Engaging Objects was a collaboration between the National Museum of Australia, the British Museum and the Australian National University, with the support of the Australian Research Council.