Native Books Hawaiʻi is happy to present the second edition of our "Meet Our Authors" Series. As we navigate these through these new times, weʻre grateful to share the insights and musings of our authors through virtual pathways. This month, we highlight the co-authors of “Refocusing Ethnographic Museums Through Oceanic Lenses."
Refocusing Ethnographic Museums through Oceanic Lenses offers a collaborative ethnographic investigation of Indigenous museum practices in three Pacific museums located at the corners of the so-called Polynesian triangle: Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Hawai‘i; Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa; and Museo Antropológico Padre Sebastián Englert, Rapa Nui. This book shapes a dialogue between Euro-Americentric myopia and Oceanic perspectives by offering historically informed, ethnographic insights into Indigenous museum practices grounded in Indigenous epistemologies, ontologies, and cosmologies. In doing so, it employs Oceanic lenses that help to reframe Pacific collections in, and the production of public understandings through, ethnographic museums in Europe and the Americas.
We took some time to get to know these co-authors- and we hope you do too.
Please introduce yourself
Philipp: My name is Philipp, and these days I am a museum anthropologist at LMU Munich in Germany. I did my Phd at Victoria University of Wellington in partnership with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongerewa. Thus, as pointed out in the book, the last fifteen years of traveling, working, researching, and living across Oceania have turned this part of the world into my second home, and have made me become a scholar.
Noelle: Aloha. My name is Noelle Kahanu and I am one of the many co-authors and contributors to Refocusing Ethnographic Museums through Oceanic Lenses. I am kanaka maoli, born and raised in Honolulu but my ‘ohana come from Maui, Hawai’i, Oahu, and beyond. I'm a fifteen-year veteran of the Bishop Museum where I developed scores of exhibitions and programs, including the renovation of Hawaiian Hall (2009), Pacific Hall (2013), the landmark E Kū Ana Ka Paia exhibition (2010). Currently, I work as an associate specialist within the American Studies Department of UH Manoa.
Tell us what youʻve been working on during COVID
Philipp: COVID has been a challenge to all of us, but any crisis also harbours the potential of hope, beauty and different futures. In our research group on 'Indigeneities in the 21. Century', in which Noelle is involved on several levels, we could hardly travel but we still managed to set up an infrastructure to operate from several localities, such as Germany and Hawai'i, and to collaboratively engage via zoom etc. That way we have made much progress with a film trilogy on NIU, the tree of life, and launched a centralised 'visual gallery' of Rapanui carvings held in museum institutions around the globe. COVID cannot stop people and their relations committed to common meaningful causes.
Noelle: My research and practice explores the liberating and generative opportunities when museums “seed” authority rather than “cede” authority. I have been working on implementing several grants, including an National Endowment for the Humanities funding project, Weaving a Net(work) of Care for Oceanic Collections, which will bring together a cohort of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders for museum training in the Summer of 2022, and an IMLS Native Hawaiian libraries funded project to bring together archival materials on Hui Panāla’au from 7 different repositories.
Who is the audience for your book?
Philipp: Anyone who thinks and works through the past, present and future of museums should be able to find something of interest and use in the book. We don't offer definite answers to problems or questions, but rather invite the reader to refocus, rethink, redo.
Noelle: People in the museum and heritage sectors would be interested, but especially those who like looking at various models of partnership, collaboration, and community engagement. This book encapsulates work that Philipp has done with various individuals (researchers, Indigenous scholars, museum folks, etc.). Each one is a unique case study - with some being more successful than others -- but what is ultimately meaningful is the shared authority and multiplicity of voices throughout.
Are there any books or literature that your work seeks to be in conversation with?
Philipp: The book resonates with a range of books on Indigenous engagements with, and reinventions of, academic disciplines such as anthropology, knowledge practices such as curatorship, and institutions such as museums. I recently read Jason Gibson's 'Ceremony Men: Making Ethnography and the Return of the Strehlow Collection', which is a remarkable piece of scholarship aimed at rethinking the role of Indigenous and non-Indigenous interactions in the production of ethnographic museum collections. I strongly believe that such deep scholarship makes a difference in an often violently contested world.
Noelle: I see parallels with several articles that have appeared - “Reviewing Oceania" in Museum Worlds (2019) and Articles on the return of Kalaniopuʻuʻs chiefly adornments in Te Papa Tongarewaʻs Online research journal Tuhinga 28, 2017. https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/learn/research/research-publications/tuhinga-our-research-journal/past-tuhinga-issues/tuhinga-28. All address the transformative practice of activating collections through Indigenous agency. Museums are in a constant state of transformation and we are all agents of change in some way, shape, or form.
Are there any titles or authors that we carry at our store(s) that have inspired your trajectory and scholarship?
Philipp: It’s hard to single out a particular piece of written scholarship, as our book engages with Oceanic and Hawaiian scholarship in its various facets. The cultural work by Kamalu du Preez and Marques Hanalei Marzan at Bishop Museum , the artistic productions by Maile Andrade, and the philosophical reflections by Manulani Aluli Meyer, held at your store(s), have all inspired my scholarship as seen in the book.
Noelle: The loss of Hawaiian scholar Malcolm Naea Chun was heartbreaking. I return to his work often and always find new meanings. Dealing with colonial museums can be so painful too that sometimes it is important to spend time reading works that heal us - such as the recently published Volume Three of Nānā I Ke Kumu.
What are you reading this summer?
Philipp: Reading is part of my profession so I am constantly reading. During the summer break I normally try to stop this, as much as I can, to rather absorb landscapes, mountains, lakes. I will visit Bulgaria, however, a formerly socialist brother state of the GDR, or East Germany, where I grew up. I will thus be surrounded by the (post)socialist remains and insribed memories that have shaped my biography and sense of self. Every once in a while, then, I will simply have to read and think.
Noelle: Earlier in the year, I read Lonnie Bunchʻs A Foolʻs Errand, which was about the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He is now the director of the entire Smithsonian, the first African American to be in such a leadership position. I loved his candor and humor and it was a lesson in how to accomplish hard and difficult things, one step at a time.
We are grateful to carry Refocusing Ethnographic Museums through Oceanic Lenses both online and in-store! Mahalo nui to our authors and mahalo nui our readers. To learn more about Refocusing Ethnographic Museums through Oceanic Lenses, click here or stop by for a chat! A hui hou! Keep an eye out for our third edition of ʻMeet Our Authorsʻ next month!