Man decorating a lis-alis, a Madurese fishing boat, in Telaga Biru, Madura, 1999

Australia-ASEAN Council Grant awarded for cross-cultural project

6 March 2024
Interpreting shared histories through Southeast Asian maritime collections
Dr Natali Pearson was awarded significant funding in the latest round of Australia-ASEAN Council Grants for a cross-cultural capacity-building project on maritime collections across Southeast Asia.

SSEAC’s Dr Natali Pearson has been awarded a $50,000 Australia-ASEAN Council Grant for a project that aims to increase cross-cultural capacity to interpret and communicate shared maritime histories across museums in five ASEAN countries and Australia.

Participants from selected museums in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore will have an opportunity to develop their collaborative museological and curatorial skills through object significance workshops and the co-development of cross-cutting themes that respond to increased regional demand for new ways of interpreting museum collections.

“I’m excited to be embarking on the ‘SEA-Collections Project’, where I’ll be working with established partners in the region, including the team from Southeast Asia Museum Services (SEAMS), and with museum curators and professionals in Southeast Asia and Australia to not only help build capacity but to uncover more of our shared histories through maritime collections,” Dr Pearson said. 

“It aligns with my broader research focus on maritime heritage in Southeast Asia, which explores the narratives that are constructed by, within and beyond Southeast Asia using objects from the sea.”

The project will leverage existing relationships – including with curators from Chau Chak Wing Museum, Australian National Maritime Museum, Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Western Australian Museum – to facilitate in-person and online workshops.

The workshops will introduce participants to an established and tested methodology for assessing and communicating the significance of objects aimed at creating deeper insights into shared maritime histories. Following this, online curatorial meetings will be held with curators from museums in ASEAN countries and Australia to identify and highlight cross-cutting themes between maritime museums which will be included in the digital exhibition.

Detailed research and documentation will be conducted on over 25 maritime objects from or connected with the region, which will be used to develop an online exhibition to be launched in late 2024. This expands on previous Indonesia-focused projects SEAMS has undertaken in partnership with Deakin University and the Western Australian Museum, which was developed into the Tetangga (“neighbour”) exhibition.

The project aligns with Australia’s priorities in Southeast Asia, including strengthening links in research collaboration, encouraging cross-cultural exchanges across institutions and strengthening cooperation in the area of maritime cultural heritage. The funding announcement comes at a time when all eyes are on Australia-ASEAN future engagement.

“This Australia-ASEAN Council Grant will support Southeast Asian partners to undertake significance assessments of maritime collections, and to build capacity in the museum and cultural sector,” Dr Pearson said. 

“Importantly, it will further enable the development of narratives that do justice to the region’s rich and interconnected histories.”


Hero image: Decorating a lis-alis (traditional Madurese fishing boat), Telaga Biru, Madura, 1999. Credit: Jeffrey Mellefont.

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