MAA has a long history of working in collaboration with Torres Strait Islanders. One of the Museum’s most important collections – the objects, photographs, drawings and notes assembled by Alfred Haddon and the 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait – is an important resource for Island Custom.
On 17 June 2015 the museum was privileged to host award-winning artist Alick Tipoti and the ZUGUBAL dancers from Badu Island, Torres Strait. Plans for the visit were initiated by Tipoti in 2012 when he returned to Cambridge to research historic collections as a stimulus for his artistic practice. Tipoti was inspired to come back to MAA with the ZUGUBAL dancers to ‘re-connect with the artistry of their forefathers’ and dance for the masks.
The team included Alick Tipoti, Uncle Tommy, Laurie Nona, Patrick Tamway, Frank Nona, Joey Laifoo, and Tanu Nona with filmmaker Mau Power and manager Charles Street. In preparation for the event a temporary display of historic Torres Strait masks was installed in the Maudslay gallery. After a day researching Torres Strait material in MAA’s reserve collections, the dancers donned traditional-style costumes made by the artists and had a private performance in the gallery for the masks and the spirits of their ancestors. This was followed by a spectacular public performance. At the end of the event Curator Anita Herle and MAA were honoured by the presentation of the dhari headdress worn by Uncle Laurie Nona. Museum staff and members of the audience, including Margaret Rishbeth (Haddon’s granddaughter), were delighted to have the opportunity to meet with the Islanders.
Earlier in the day Alick Tipoti also spoke about his Linocut Print ULAKAL (2002) on display in MAA’s special exhibition ‘The Power of Paper” (14 February – 6 December 2015). ULAKAL, one of numerous contemporary Torres Strait artworks in MAA’s collections, was commissioned by Museum following Tipoti’s visit in 2000.