In January 2014 I became aware that the vast and historical Oceanic Collection held by the British Museum was now accessible online to view as digital photographs in an electronic database. Quite a feat I must admit, by the museum staff. According to the British Museum website, up to 2000 images were uploaded each week as part of their 35 year on-going effort to document and digitise all cultural artefacts, to support curatorial and research work. As a woman who identifies as being a Pacific Islander and an artist, my initial reaction to this knowledge was one of apprehension.
Say My Name
The body language of each individual in this image speaks volumes to me. Compositionally the framing of this image shows who is important and who is valued, who has power and agency, who doesn’t and who is centred in visual history? When I think about German and Gunantuna relationships, I wonder how this German planter and this Tolai woman communicated? How did they meet? Initially when I first viewed this image I wondered if this child was or is one of the many children who were taken into Vunapope catholic mission by German nuns and bishops, that led to the Unserdeutsch community that exists today in Brisbane. I have lots of questions that I hope to be able to answer and understand during my fellowship research that will feed into my PhD photographic research of Papuan women in front of the lens.
Honouring the F.M.I. Sisters, Pacific Biography Workshop
Of the 31,000 listed entries in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, only 31 biographies are of Pacific people, 2 of these are of Pacific women. My research and highlighting of the incredible 45 F.M.I. Sisters was noted by the workshop organisers as "the perfect blend of creative, public facing and historically informed scholarship that pushes the boundaries of biography as a discipline."