The Virtual Museum of the Pacific – New Context, New Knowledge, New Art

Friederike Krishnabhakdi-Vasilakis
2010 Conference

In a postcolonial world, traditional representations of cultural artefacts in museums are challenged by rapidly proliferating online presence of collections and associated narratives. The Virtual Museum of the Pacific (VMP) project, which can be characterised as a digital ecosystem, is developing a social media platform designed to enable a variety of user communities to engage with the Pacific Collections of the Australian Museum. This engagement has the potential to disrupt the museum’s control over the display and interpretation of its ethnographic collections. There is a growing trend for artists from Indigenous or creator communities, whose cultural heritage is heavily represented in museums, to explore collections to rediscover their ancestral heritage. In contrast to the primitivist assumptions that informed Modernist artists who drew on collected artefacts in their work, the work of these artists renews and re-contextualises processes of creating objects or challenges assumptions about museum displays and how they frame knowledge. The VMP is an interdisciplinary Australian Research Council Linkage Project developed by a University of Wollongong research team in partnership with the Australian Museum. Based on a system known as Collection Web, it combines content management systems for objects with accessible social media user interfaces and aims to support users to extend the annotation of objects in culturally specific ways. Currently, user evaluations are being used to inform the system’s development and foster a more dynamic exchange of knowledge between institutions and communities of users. A survey of staff working in education and community access at the Australian Museum shows that the potential of such a forum has been identified by staff working in education and community access at the Australian Museum. There is also a strong view that collaboration with artists from creator communities is the key to transforming the VMP into an innovative access tool for the Museum’s Pacific Collections. Keywords: virtual museum, web-based

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About the author

Friederike Krishnabhakdi-Vasilakis studied Ethnology, Art History and Media Science at the Philips University of Marburg, Germany, where she received a Master of Arts degree. She completed her PhD in Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong in 2009. She has been teaching Visual Art Theory and Art History at the Faculty of Creative Arts at UOW since 2005, and more recently also commenced teaching in Indigenous Studies at Woolyungah Indigenous centre at UOW. Her research interests comprise Indigenous art, postcolonial theory in art, institutional space and cultural representation, curatorship and museology. She presented her research in national and international conferences and publications. Friederike is currently research assistant for Professor Amanda Lawson in an ARC Linkage Grant project called “The Virtual Museum of the Pacific” which is a collaboration between a diverse research team from the University of Wollongong and the Australian Museum. The project explores new means for stakeholders to interact with the collection of the Australian Museum in virtual space.