This First Nations Exhibition at the Australian Museum Is Focused on Truth-Telling

From May 22, 2021 visitors to the Australian Museum (AM) will be able to view an incredibly significant exhibition — Unsettled — for free in the newly refurbished building’s touring exhibition hall.

Unsettled sees First Nations’ voices tell Australia’s foundation story including First Nations resilience and survival. First-hand accounts are presented through historical documents, large-scale artworks, immersive experiences and never-before-seen objects from the Australian Museum collection.

The timely exhibition is an evidence-based one, with the aim of taking attendees on a journey from the signal fires lit by Aboriginal people as a warning when Lieutenant Cook sailed up the east coast in 1770, to the resistance and resilience of First Nations peoples since colonisation in 1788. With more than 190 objects and images in the show and over 100 contributions by First Nations peoples across the country, Unsettled illuminates the power of truth-telling.

Timed to open a week before National Reconciliation Week, Australian Museum Director and CEO Kim McKay AO said the Unsettled exhibition required the AM to reflect on its own history and emphasised the need to honour First Nations’ voices.

Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt, a Eualayai and Gamillaroi woman and AM Trustee said that Unsettled challenges the traditional relationship between First Nations peoples and collecting institutions.

“By privileging of the perspective and views of First Nations peoples, Unsettled is redefining the conversations a museum can have with the people who walk into it. Not only can they look, listen, learn and deepen their understanding, but they can also do so knowing they are engaging in an authentic First Nations voice and vision,” Behrendt said.

In the curation of Unsettled, more than 2,500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were consulted, with the information revealing that these communities wanted to see an exhibition that committed to evidence-based truth-telling of Australia’s foundation story.

“Truth-telling about Australia’s past is an important process for understanding who we are now and how we came to be as a nation,” said Laura McBride, a Wailwan and Kooma woman who is now Director, First Nations at the AM. ”

Truth-telling can be confronting, but the process can be powerful: grief can make way for healing, and healing unites people who were once divided. It is time we stop pretending that meaningful change can happen in a system that is grounded in denial.

She continued, “Without truth, our histories, our lands, our peoples and our relationships will remain unhealed and unsettled. We hope the Unsettled exhibition will shift perceptions and help us develop a national narrative of equity and respect and I encourage everyone to come experience it for themselves.”

Unsettled opens FREE at the Australian Museum on Saturday 22 May and will run through to Sunday 10 October. A full program of First Nations events will complement this important exhibition, including tours, talks, films, workshops, meditation and weaving. 

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