The Sound of Missing Objects- Reflections on the Museum
Every Image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own threatens to disappear irretrievably. (Benjamin, Walter. 1969, orig. pub. 1940: p: 255)
It is by now a truism that museums, many of which were developed during the Victorian period of high empire, have lost their identity, at least in terms of their ethnological functions. Anyone who has wandered the huge storerooms of the large museums of the world cannot but think of a graveyard, orderly and well tended, but graveyard indeed.
The feelings of loss, mourning and melancholia associated with these graveyards of artefacts should not let us close the book and leave the museum, rather they should make us stop and think about why these storerooms summon up such feelings. If these mausoleums contain lost objects, and they must be lost to someone if they are here in this impersonal, state-run storehouse, then a series of questions follow. Who has lost the objects? Where are they lost from? Are they lost to us? Not apparently, they were never ours in the first place. And who is this us anyway? Are they objects belonging to lost cultures, lost people? Perhaps, but if we consign cultures to the cemetery, we would probably be wrong, for the salvage paradigm turns out to be incorrect. The death knell tolled so often turned out not to be true and many a cultural Lazarus has risen from the dead. Truganini turns out not to be a ghost at all, and her descendants are alive and living in Bondi, Redfern or Papunya, New York, or Paris.