Worlds finest collection of rare Malagan masks from PNG and other Pacific treasures on display at the Australian Museum

Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Julie Bishop MP opens Pacific Spirit at the Australian Museum.

Sydney, Thursday 30 April, 2015: Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Julie Bishop MP, today officially opened a new preview gallery, Pacific Spirit, at the Australian Museum featuring the world’s finest collection of rare Malagan funerary masks from Papua New Guinea.

Drawing on the Museum’s extraordinary Pacific collection, rated as one of the most significant in the world with over 60,000 objects, Pacific Spirit showcases both the Museum’s historic and contemporary Pacific collections and the Museum’s deep engagement with Pacific communities.

“Australia places a special value on its close historical, political, economic, aid and community links with the island countries and territories of the Pacific. Arts and culture are one of Australia’s greatest assets and an exhibition like this enhances our relationship with our Pacific neighbours.

“The Australian Museum Pacific collection has immense spiritual and cultural significance to Pacific peoples and provides a tangible way to actively engage these communities,” Minister Bishop said.

Australian Museum director & CEO Kim McKay AO said that the priceless collection has been hidden away in storage for too long and that she was determined to create a preview exhibition to show what might be possible in the future when new gallery space is created at Australia’s first museum.

“We are the museum of Australia and the Pacific and it is important, not only for our visitors but also for the cultural diversity of the region, to showcase this extraordinary Polynesian and Melanesian collection to the people of NSW and beyond,” she said.

Pacific Spirit features rare and priceless artefacts including 23 elaborate and sacred Malagan masks from PNG dating from the 1800s, towering ceremonial poles from New Britain, intricately carved door panels from New Caledonia, bird of paradise head ornaments from the highlands of PNG, Kava bowls and drums from Samoa and Vanuatu and delicate jewellery from Fiji. Visitors will discover how each object embodies the culture that continues to resonate in contemporary Pacific societies, including here in Sydney.

Pacific Spirit forms part of our commitment to ‘unlocking the collections’ and promoting greater understanding of the Pacific’s culture and heritage, and provides an opportunity for visitors to experience the colour, culture and artistry of one of the world’s most diverse regions. To stand in the middle of the gallery surrounded by these extraordinary objects is an uplifting and enriching experience,” McKay said.

The preview exhibition will also serve as a springboard for engaging Pacific diaspora and other stakeholders through new community outreach programs, public talks, performances and other activities. Plans are being developed to create permanent Pacific galleries within the next few years to share more of this invaluable collection with the public.

Background - Australian Museum and the Pacific:

The Australian Museum has a long history with its Pacific neighbours dating back to 1875 when the Museum mounted the first Australian-led international scientific expedition to New Guinea.

Since this time, the Australian Museum has established strong networks and working relationships throughout the region including with over 15 national museums and universities in PNG, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, West Papua and Hawaii.

The Australian Museum Pacific collection, representing 14 Pacific nations and 11 territories including Norfolk Island, Easter Island, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia and New Zealand, is inextricably linked to the artists’ beliefs and local social systems as well as creating a symbolic connection to a larger view of humanity.

Objects were rarely purely functional in nature, often serving as a highly visible way of communicating status and power among the living, as well as acting as a conduit for communicating with the spirit world.

The Pacific collection is held in the Australian Museum’s cultural stores with a team of experts - many of whom are direct descendants from the region - overseeing conservation efforts and research projects. The collections are also accessed by international academics and visitors for research and exhibition projects and remain a source of cultural renewal for many Pacific communities.