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Wanjina Wunggurr Traditional Owners travel to Germany for an art and cultural advice residency

Members from the Frobenius Institute and the University of Western Australia have been collaborating over the last three years with Wanjina Wunggurr Traditional Owners to work on ethnographic materials from the Kimberley that have been kept in Germany for more than 80 years. The project is conducted in collaboration with the Dambimangari, Wilinggin, and Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporations.

The project team at the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, which also houses the Frobenius Institute (from left to right: Christina Henneke, Richard Kuba, Pete O’Connor, Rona Charles, Lloyd Nulgit, and Leah Umbagai (Photo: Kim Doohan)

Between 13 November and 3 December this year, four Traditional Owners together with Kim Doohan were able to travel to Frankfurt am Main in Germany to personally inspect the archival materials and provide cultural advice on their significance and meanings, and on their appropriate curation. Leah Umbagai and Pete O’Connor represented Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation and Rona Charles and Lloyd Nulgit represented Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation. The purpose of the visit was to collaboratively develop an exhibition on the archival materials that will open at the Weltkulturenmuseum in Frankfurt in November 2024.

Rona Charles and Leah Umbagai working on artworks for the exhibition in the studio at the Weltkulturenmuseum (Photo: Kim Doohan)

For the exhibition planning, a mutually agreed outline was developed that incorporates the history of the German expeditions to the Northwest Kimberley in 1938 and 1955 as well as the perspectives of relevant Traditional Owners in the past and today. Most importantly, the exhibition also draws on interpretations of the archival materials and how they are important for Traditional Owners today, for issues surrounding cultural heritage and continuation.

Leah Umbagai, Pete O’Connor, Rona Charles, and Lloyd Nulgit are being recorded working in the studio at the Weltkulturenmuseum (Photo: Kim Doohan)

The team followed a demanding and tight work schedule with many intensive meetings and discussions. The conversations revolved around the design and the structure of the exhibition as well as the selection of appropriate items to be displayed. From this, a great mutual understanding was developed that will be reflected in the upcoming exhibition and any accompanying materials. During the residency, numerous excellent artworks were created, including two large string totems. The Traditional Owners were also filmed during their work and gave interviews explaining the meaning of artworks and Wanjina Wunggurr culture.

Lloyd Nulgit creating a string totem in the studio at the Weltkulturenmuseum (Photo: Kim Doohan)

Apart from being extremely busy with the exhibition planning, the team also found some time to explore the city of Frankfurt and its Christmas market as well as a short trip for a museum tour to Paris.

Visit by Kate Luxford (Chargé d'Affaires, Australian Embassy Germany) to the Frobenius Institute at the Goethe University (front row, left to right: Leah Umbagai, Isabel Kreuder, Kate Luxford; back row, left to right: Lloyd Nulgit, Pete O’Connor, Matthias Hofmann, Kim Doohan, Christina Henneke, Richard Kuba) (Photo: Ursula Paul)

Dr Eva Raabe, Director of the Weltkulturenmuseum, said that during her whole career as a museum practitioner, she has never experienced such a valuable and productive residency. Everybody is now looking forward to the next steps and the eventual exhibition next year.

Artwork and totems created during the residency at the Weltkulturenmuseum in Frankfurt am Main (Photo. Kim Doohan)

The project team during their short visit to Paris, the good spirit completely unaffected by the rainy weather (left to right: Rona Charles, Richard Kuba, Pete O’Connor, Lloyd Nulgit, Leah Umbagai, Kim Doohan, Christina Henneke, Michael Houseman) (Photo: Bridget Robinson-Kuba)

Left: Pete O’Connor creating artworks in the studio at the Weltkulturenmuseum (Photo: Kim Doohan). Right: Artwork created during the residency at the Weltkulturenmuseum in Frankfurt am Main (Photo. Kim Doohan)

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