model of ancestral yagan canoe on table in museum storage room

Reconnecting the Yaghan community to cultural belongings: 90 years on

In an article published in the Australian magazine Artlink, a quarterly themed journal covering contemporary art and ideas from Australia and the Asia-Pacific, Rebecca Carland (Ensayo #5) recounts the community consultation and nuts-and-bolts work that goes into decolonizing projects, from the perspective of a museum worker. Ensayo #5 is concerned with reconnecting Fuegian communities to their cultural objects and archives around the world. Ensayos is collaborating with the Museo Antropológico Martín Gusinde, the Comunidad Indígena Yagan Bahía Mejillones, and the Melbourne Museum on a groundbreaking project.


Authored by Ensayista Rebecca Carland and edited by Léuli Eshraghi and Kimberley Moulton, “Reconnecting the Yaghan community to cultural belongings: 90 years on” was published in Artlink Special Issue: INDIGENOUS Kin Constellations Volume 40 Issue 2 (Jun 2020).

Abstract: My name is Rebecca Carland. I am a senior curator at Museums Victoria, based at Melbourne Museum. My work centres on the history of the museum’s collections, how they came to the museum, and their journey through time and space. Like many museums established in the nineteenth century, we care for vast First Nations collections, from Australia and around the world. Increasingly, our work with these collections occurs against a backdrop of profound change in the museum’s approach to First Peoples’ authority. We are guided by a transformational principle which seeks to place First Peoples’ living cultures and histories at the core of our practice. Our current project, ‘Lost in Translation’, sits at the intersection of this new paradigm and the colonial legacy – collaborating with and giving back to the Yaghan community of Chile, who continue to practice their culture and connection to their lands.

Yaghan Elders including President David Alday, Julia González, Martín González Calderón and Veronica and Violeta Balfor are leading this project, along with independent curator and Museums Victoria Honorary Associate, Camila Marambio, working with Rebecca Carland.

The curators and community Elders are grateful for the extraordinary support of Alberto Serrano, Director, Museo Antropológico Martín Gusinde, Navarino, Chile.

Image credit: Yaghan canoe in storage at the Melbourne Museum, photo by Jacqueline Shelton



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