From Papua New Guinea to the Museum: (re)collecting Abelam assemblages (1955-1987)

Roussillon, Amelie (2021) From Papua New Guinea to the Museum: (re)collecting Abelam assemblages (1955-1987). Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This research investigates the histories and itineraries of Abelam collections from the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea held in museums in Europe (the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and the UK), Australia and Papua New Guinea. These collections were acquired between 1955 and 1987, mostly at the turn of Papua New Guinea Independence in 1975. It aims to interrogate why and how museum institutions have collected very large quantities of material from the Abelam region, especially haus tambaran painted and carved contents and initiation-related material, and what processes contributed to transforming these artefacts into museum objects.

This thesis aims to re-collect the multiplicity of human and non-human actors who contributed to the formation of these collections, taking into consideration their interacting agency and focusing not only on the collected objects but also on the accumulated archival documentation. In doing so, it contributes to creating a fresh perspective on the history of these collections-as-assemblages and on the collecting practices in the Abelam region during the second half of the 20th century. Rather than studying each assemblage independently, it proposes to question their emergence and trajectories in relation to one another, highlighting how collecting endeavours have informed each other and contributed to shaping a certain representation of Abelam (material) culture.

Through this specific focus, this research in turn interrogates the ongoing lives of Abelam collections within museum institutions and proposes to re-define what are more broadly understood as ‘ethnographic collections’ as fluid and ever-growing assemblages, of which archival documentation forms an essential part. It aims to historicise these collections, to complicate their history while framing collecting practices as relational events. As such, it falls into the ongoing call to re-complexify the history of collections, to thicken collecting narratives, and for provenance research to account for these complex encounters at the heart of ethnographic collection-making.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 11 Jul 2022 13:51
Last Modified: 11 Jul 2022 13:51

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