By Anna Sturman, SEI Content Editor
As 2021 begins to wind to a close, we may reflect upon how the year’s events have challenged and changed us. It has been a year marked by disruption and unevenly felt impacts. While many have worked both more and in less safe conditions than ever before, for others the year heralded a turn inwards and a slowing down; connections with the outside world mediated through screens for long stretches of time. In such a time, how we engage with each other and approach the big questions we collectively face looms large.
In this short blogpost we want to highlight the connective work of SEI Member Dr Jude Philp, Senior Curator of the Macleay Collections at Chau Chak Wing Museum, both in facilitating discussions across audiences and understandings, and in linking these discussions to our collective histories.
Dr Philp has worked in the anthropology divisions at the Australian Museum and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge (where she also undertook her PhD). Her research centres on 19th-century collections and cultural interactions of people from the Torres Strait and south-east coastal Papua New Guinea.
In her role with the Macleay Collections, Dr Philp is interested in stimulating research into the collections and increasing the purposefulness of museum holdings through exhibition, research and events. As part of this commitment to connecting the Collections to conversations across the University of Sydney and beyond, Dr Philp has been a vital link between the Collections and various threads of SEI’s core research themes, from jellyfish and climate change to interdisciplinary knowledge translation.
Her adept interweaving of cutting-edge research with compelling narratives and a focus on access is exemplary of SEI’s purpose: to extend and amplify the scope of the engagement on environmental issues; and to bring together expertise from across disciplines to address key problems in favour of the public good.
Fortunately, the disruptions of 2021 have not completely halted access to the Collections and conversations they catalyse. A recent event curated by Dr Philp, My Home Land Papua, stories and songs, celebrated the digital launch of Pacific Views, the new exhibition of historic photography and poetry. Pacific Views celebrates Pacific peoples’ recognition of song and spoken word as one of the most powerful tools humans have to keep communities strong and carry ideas forward through adversity and the good times.
At the digital launch, the new exhibition was welcomed by an evening of performances and discussions with Benny Bettay, Oridek Ap, Black Sistaz and the Black Orchid Stringband, Australian-based artists carrying forward the work of activist Arnold Ap who used song to sustain West Papuan communities and bring to international audiences the work of the West Papua freedom movement.
Following COP26 and ongoing indications that strong action on climate and solidarity with our Pacific neighbours will not be forthcoming from the Australian government, the benefits of building these relationships and conversations across Australia and the Pacific are clear. As Dr Philp notes, it is imperative to listen directly to Pacific and Australia’s Indigenous peoples, who intimately understand the long histories and relationships with their homelands and waters.
Amidst the uncertainties and confusions of the post-pandemic, climate-changing world, our shared histories and the spaces to explore connections and possible futures are more precious than ever. Only by nurturing these conversations can we all better care for our region.