First Peoples celebrates the history, culture, achievements and survival of Victoria’s Aboriginal people. Located in the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum, it embodies a new approach to conventional anthropology by telling this narrative in the first person. The primacy of the storyteller – their identity and their voice – has profoundly shaped the consultation process, the resolution of the display spaces and the visitor experience.
The exhibition was created in partner- ship with a reference group of sixteen respected Aboriginal community elders who became known as the Yulendj Group. Yulendj is a Kulin word for “knowledge and intelligence.” Their contribution is celebrated in the exhibition with a series of individual totems along a wall richly decorated with graphic patterns of basket weaving. The funeral of one member of the Yulendj has been held in Bunjilaka – there is evidence here of a deeper shift by the museum from stewardship of a cultural legacy to host of an ongoing collaboration of living culture.
The design team’s evaluation of the space has been systematic and rigorous. Spaces have been tested through obser-vations, interviews and ratings to understand the success of the different design strategies, all with a view to deepening the engagement and reinforcing the key messages.
This exhibition demands repeat viewing, not simply because only a fraction of the collection is able to be displayed at any one time, but because of the depths offered in what is on display. Information is offered for interpretation, letting each visitor discover their own patterns and themes. The digital collage of video interviews assembles and reassembles over days to offer up different stories triggered by keywords.
The exhibition’s curation was masterful in the use of technology, craftsmanship and design at given touch points, providing emotive interactivity between the user and the interface of the exhibit.
The cultural exhibition has been a benchmark both nationally and globally in providing other indigenous cultures with a platform with which to tell their history through firsthand storytelling.
First Peoples tells the story of Victoria’s First Peoples, from the time of Creation to today, celebrating the history, culture, achievements and survival of Victoria’s Aboriginal people that includes more than forty Aboriginal languages and cultural groups still thriving. First Peoples was collaboratively developed and co-curated with Victoria’s Aboriginal communities. Renewal of long-term exhibitions is an opportunity to create contemporary exhibitions with links to society, culture and learning. Evaluation is undertaken during the early stages of exhibition devel opment to understand audience knowledge and interest in particular content areas. The exhibition was designed to engage audiences of all ages and provide content and information that broadened their understanding, appreciation and respect for the First Peoples of this land. Indeed, there is incredible diversity of living Aboriginal culture in Victoria and the exhibition was an excellent opportunity to illustrate this. Where many exhibitions about Aboriginal culture have skewed toward anthropological narratives, this exhibition was designed to liberate this narrative, acknowledging that the best people to tell this story, are the Aboriginal people themselves. This approach was vital to the provision of meaningful, authentic ideas, stories and experiences.
The Interior Design Impact award is supported by Business Interiors. The Australian Interior Design Awards are presented by the Design Institute of Australia and Artichoke magazine. For more images of this project, see the Australian Interior Design Awards gallery.
Published online: 9 Jun 2017
Images: Dianna Snape, Museums Victoria
Artichoke, June 2017