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South Pacific Museums: Experiments in Culture



The 1961 film Hiroshima mon amour raises some crucial questions about the dilemmas involved in representing or memorialising violence, which are still of relevance to museums today, particularly those in new nations whose emergence has been forged in part through violence. This paper explores such questions in relation to new museums of the Pacific region, including the Centre Culturel Tjibaou in New Caledonia, and the three institutions – Arte Moris, the Uma Fukun and the Max Stahl Audio-Visual Archive – in Timor-Leste (East Timor). It suggests that the paradigm of culture as contemporary and forward looking, which organises many of the new cultural centres of the Pacific region, risks eradicating the sense of history from which these nations emerged.

About suffering they were never wrong,

The Old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just

walking dully along;

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

(‘Musee des Beaux Arts’, Auden 1979).

W. H. Auden’s poem about human suffering and the casualness with which people turn way from it in order to get on with the business of life takes place at the site of an art museum, on the face of it not the most likely location for such an insight. This ironic juxtaposition of suffering, indifference and the museum highlights a problem that faces those who engage in representations in museums. The modern museum is often born with the nation-state and the birth of the nation is often accompanied by violent struggle. How do museums deal with their own origins, and in particular, with the violence that often attends those origins? How are decisions made about representing those origins and that violence? Is the birth of the nation always depicted as a triumphal and hopeful narrative? Do curators think about how to strike a balance between a faithful narration of complex events attending the birth of nations versus the need to contribute to cohesion of the nation? This essay was first presented at a conference called Rebirth of the Museum, a title that directs attention to the origins of museums. It is concerned with how the new museums of the Pacific region, especially those emerging from violent colonial struggles, come into being and how they consider or ignore questions about the representation of the very recent violence from which they emerge.

The Pacific region entered a phase of museum construction that coincided with the birth of new nations in the 1960s. The transitions to independence varied, and while some were peaceful, others were marked by violent struggle. In 1975 Papua New Guinea gained independence after a peaceful transition, whereas in the late 1980s the Matignon Accords between New Caledonia and France, an agreement that paved the way for autonomy, were only negotiated after a bloody struggle. By the beginning of the twenty-first century the Pacific was a region of many nations, and many new museums. In regions where indigenous peoples are part of larger nation-states, such as Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia, new museums have emerged from that attempt to give voice to the many different strands of the nation and, to some extent, depart from the heroic narrative of the cohesive nation state (Gore 2002). These new Pacific museums have emerged at the same time as new museum theories and practices. While there is no particular agreement on paradigms of this field as a whole (Marstine 2006, 6), museums in the Pacific are, nevertheless, part of this global transformation in museum cultures (Message 2006, 9).

The time span covered by the emergence of new Pacific museums is broad (over a quarter century) and each institution has its own particular locale and identity. Scale varies enormously from the spectacular and costly Centre Culturel Tjibaou (CCT) to very simple structures, such as the Goondee Keeping Place and the Amaroo Museum and Cultural Centre in Australia (Aboriginal Heritage Unit, The Australian Museum). Almost all these museums call themselves cultural centres to differentiate themselves from the old museums associated with the colonial past (Kaeppler 1994). The term also signifies one characteristic that Pacific cultural centres have in common – the paradigm that organises the centres, including space, exhibitions and collections, is one in which the notion of culture is perceived as contemporary, emergent and projecting into the future. There is also an emphasis on links to other Pacific island nations, also conceptualised as contemporary (Message 2006, 9). While such an approach makes sense in terms of cultural identity, marking Pacific museums as different from the old museums of the metropolitan centres with their emphasis on a frozen past, this paradigm, like the ones it has replaced, may also become naturalised and proscriptive.

The reliance on this paradigm leads to the eradication of a sense of history from most museums. If historical events are represented these tend to follow the narrative forms of the traditional museum. In many museums linkage to the nation means that struggle leading to the founding of the nation, and struggle within the new nation, which often includes internecine strife, is turned into heroic narrative (Coombes 2003). The CCT is an interesting case in this respect. Opened in 1998, after the struggles in New Caledonia led to the Matignon Accords, the CCT is both a striking example of a cultural centre and a spectacular architectural monument created by Renzo Piano. Much has been written about the centre and the building (Message 2006; Bensa 2000) and it is not my intention to repeat already well-discussed aspects of the centre; however the way in which the building encodes the life of the man after whom it was named is relevant to this essay. The CCT is named after Jean-Marie Tjibaou, the great leader in the struggle for independence and autonomy from France. As with many colonial struggles there was conflict and violence between multiple political parties some of which violently disagreed with the conditions of the Matignon Accords, which were finally reached through negotiation and of which Tjibaou was the sponsor. Jean-Marie Tjibaou was tragically assassinated by a member of another party shortly after the signing of the Accords. The CCT is, among other things, an attempt to remain faithful to the dynamic vision that Tjibaou had for the future of New Caledonia, and to keep his memory alive. It does this in a number of ways throughout the institution that is named after him. High on a hill overlooking the centre is a statue of Tjibaou, a straightforward bronze representation that could be found in any major city honouring the founder of a state. There are reading materials about Tjibaou in the bookstore and available in the media centre. In this sense the CCT resembles more traditional memorials despite its iconic status as a harbinger of the new, and the tragic internecine violence that led to his death is nowhere explored in the institution.

The CCT is an interesting example of the strengths and difficulties of following the paradigm of contemporary culture in the organisation of Pacific museums. It has been critiqued for its particular representation of culture and lack of history by both Kanak and non-Kanak (Message 2006; Pitoiset 2002). The difficulty with paradigms that ignore history and violence is that the representation of culture itself often becomes a banal utopia, removed from the lived realities of local people who should form an important part of the clientele. This irrelevance becomes particularly acute in societies such as the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, where the institution bears no relation whatsoever to the fractured society it serves.

It is not my intention to suggest guidelines for the representation of violence in new museums and cultural centres. That seems not only presumptuous but also premature, since so little is known about how those who create cultural centres in new nations make decisions about representation. What I do hope here is to draw attention to the dilemma of representation for the new museums and to suggest that despite some excellent studies (Bensa 2000; Coombes 2003; Macdonald 2002; Young 1994) more research needs to be done in the area. It is, however, difficult to know how to begin to discuss this problem in this region, this seemingly ever-sunny dream-like tourist destination where we may often be able to ‘forget’ unpleasant, disturbing histories and memories. As Macdonald (2002, 7–8) has pointed out, very little research has been done on how those working in museums (and many other cultural organisations, I would add) come to decisions about representations, inclusions and exclusions. In particular, new forms of communication are also transforming the representational possibilities for cultural centres and digitalisation is now emerging as a major influence on new museums. Although there are exceptions (Bensa 2000), once exhibition or museum construction is complete, the records of the process are lost and few archives are preserved. Thus one of the best methods to study the origins of museums is ethnographic, as shown in Macdonald’s study of The Science Museum, London (Macdonald 2002).

Recently I visited a place where forgetting is not yet possible, a place where the memory of its violent past is still so recent that there is not really any question of suppressing it – the new nation of Timor-Leste (East Timor). In particular, I want to take an all-too-brief look at three emergent institutions and how they represent, or choose to forget, the recent past. Timor-Leste is the newest nation in the world, one in close proximity to and partaking of some of the same cultural forms as Pacific island states. It provides an example of a place where violence attended its birth as a new state and where the emergence of institutions can be witnessed in the process of formation. The material presented here is based on my two visits to Timor-Leste, in 2004 and 2005, four years after a referendum on independence was held. Then the people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia, which, in turn, led to the outbreak of some of the most shocking military and political violence visited on a people in recent times (Taylor 1999). This is not the place to discuss, in detail, the causes and forms of violence of the events in 1999, but a brief history is necessary in order to understand the representational problems faced by the emergent institutions of this new nation.

In 1999 the East Timorese people voted in UN-sponsored elections for independence, after an occupation by Indonesia whose troops invaded in 1975 and against which there was fierce on-going resistance. The occupation of Timor was very brutal with many cases of torture and murder by Indonesian police and military who were stationed throughout the area. While the resistance movement (Fretilin) was extremely well organised and widespread, there were also collaborators among the population. In 1999, in response to the upcoming referendum, Timorese militia bands were rapidly formed, composed of armed, pro-integrationist paramilitary groups funded and supplied by the Indonesian army and consisting mainly of people who had collaborated with Indonesian military intelligence (Taylor 1999, 223). During this period, there were disappearances, widespread murder, massive destruction of infrastructure including roads, telephone systems and schools, and the almost complete destruction of Dili, the capital. The violence stopped when a multinational UN force entered the country. After this there emerged widespread claims of genocide, forced deportation and rape, as well as the obvious destruction of the material infrastructure of the country.

In succeeding years UN agencies and many non-government organisations have arrived to assist in reconstruction. Still, the issues facing the country are monumental. As I write in 2006, for example, many infrastructural problems have only partially been redressed and the country is now ranked as the poorest in Asia, despite massive ocean oil resources. When I visited Timor-Leste, schools in the countryside were still lacking necessities such as books and chairs. Roads were almost impassable in places, water was in short supply, and medical expertise and supplies were lacking, to list only a few problems facing this new nation. Despite these overwhelming issues, there were concerns for culture and, like most new nations, there was an interest in the creation of a cultural national identity, and a number of institutions and individuals were engaged in thinking about issues of representation. There were two art schools; the Xanana Gusmao Reading Room and Library, which has a small exhibition space featuring the achievements of and memorabilia from the life of Gusmao; and a number of archives including the Max Stahl Audio-Visual Archive. There was also an official cultural centre. My first visit was an official one: I went as a representative of the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, where I teach, to investigate the possibilities of developing links to East Timorese institutions, especially programs of exchange and residency for staff and students.

To illustrate some key points of this paper, I propose we take a rapid tour of the new nation’s cultural institutions. Our first stop is the institution that hosted me – the Arte Moris, a hopeful name that means Living Art in Tetum, a major language of Timor. Founded by an energetic couple, Luca and Gabi Gansser, Arte Moris is currently set on a very large site of several hectares and comprises four enormous buildings. Arte Moris boards about 20 senior students, and many junior students come every day for lessons. The school has an exhibition wing and also houses a well-known performing group. It is a classic emergent institution, in bureaucrat speak, which, like everything else in this new nation, means money is constantly short and funding and survival is precarious. Interestingly Arte Moris is actually housed in the ruins of a museum of ethnology set up by the Indonesians, whose artefacts are gone (in off-site storage, I was told). After persistent lobbying, the Ganssers obtained the lease to the site from the Minister of Culture and were able to move from their first school, located in their own rented house. The new site initially had no water or electricity, but despite its decrepitude, the Ganssers thought the site suitable because of its enormous size.

The recent violence that visited the country is not only evident in the buildings, which are still in a state of partial ruin, but also in many students, who had their educations disrupted, lost family members and, in one case at least, were themselves tortured. A number of their paintings represent this dark violent period. Indeed some of the senior students painted such dark visions, literally using black constantly and depicting scenes of rape and murder, that after a time Luca Gansser encouraged them to avoid black, thinking, if I understood him, that the catharsis about the violence had gone on long enough. The students also painted iconic and nostalgic pictures of traditional culture, symbolised by a traditional house, the Uma Fukun. These paintings, unlike the black paintings, attempt to contribute iconic symbols for the reconstruction of their culture, a utopian rebirth that the artists hope for. In addition to its role as an art school, Arte Moris functions as a de facto cultural centre and hosts events, concerts and visitors, occupying a far more important role in the small town of Dili than it might in another national capital.

Figure 17.1 A state ceremony held in front of the Uma Fukun, the Timor Leste Cultural Centre in Dili

This brightly painted building was originally built as a garrison under Portuguese rule. The Uma Fukun is often closed but on this day it was opened for an exhibit of paintings.

© Diane Losche

Another cultural institution in Dili is the Uma Fukun, the official cultural centre of Timor-Leste, located in a building that has come to represent the emergence of Timorese culture from the ashes of destruction. The building is a remnant of the old Portuguese garrison in Timor. The irony of putting the official, national cultural centre of the new state into the site of the military wing of the first colonisers is not lost on anyone. The building was gutted, like most in Dili, but most of the walls were left and it has been restored and painted a bright, bright pink. Situated in the centre of town with a beautiful view of the harbour, it is closed and locked. Speculations as to why this splendid building doesn’t yet function as well as it might swirl in the gossip of small town Dili, but such situations are not uncommon in places such as Timor, which have so recently suffered widespread destruction. The situation of the Uma Fukun seems to be changing slowly and events such as exhibitions (mounted by students of the Dili art schools) and festivals of culture occur periodically. This bright pink building speaks of both reconstruction and loss, the birth of the nation.

The final stop on our tour is the Max Stahl Audio-Visual Archive. This is housed in one room of a new building, the Independence Memorial Hall donated by the Republic of Korea. As I write, most of the building, like many new institutions, often stands empty. The archive was founded by Max Stahl, a filmmaker and journalist who has spent most of his time in Timor since 1991, when he took now-famous footage of the massacre by Indonesian soldiers of Timorese students in a Dili cemetery. He also shot extensive footage during the 1999 events, which was broadcast around the world. Since many of Timor’s archives were destroyed in 1999, Stahl formed this one by donating his hundreds of hours of footage documenting the last 10 years of Timor’s history. This footage provides the basis of the archive at the moment, and is in the process of being transcribed to eventually form an interactive web-based audio-visual history archive. To achieve this purpose, as many tapes as possible need transcribing onto an interactive database, which translates the footage into frames with the dialogue also transcribed and translated. At the moment the dialogue on the tapes is carried out in several different languages including Bahasa, Portuguese, Tetum, and several of the other languages of Timor. The tapes are transcribed by university students and others who are paid by the hour, while some individuals donate their services. The room holds four computers and video monitors, which are run from early morning to late at night, as the students work in shifts around their other activities. For a fee, researchers can also access the archive.

The archive is, like libraries and archives everywhere, a representational institution where visitors come and view the tapes. During one of my visits, a nun and priest who had been very active in the resistance movement were able to view, for the first time, tapes of significant events of 1999 that they themselves had participated in, and to see, once again, those of their friends who had been killed. Stahl hopes that the archive will also function as a place where cultural projects can be carried out. At the moment many of the tapes depict and narrate the violence that has played so great a part of the last 10 years of Timor’s history. More than the other two institutions discussed here, the archive takes as its core activity the representation of the violence that has formed the recent history of the nation, but the archive, like most, is also a less public institution than either Arte Moris or the Uma Fukun. Because of the structure of this technology the only way in which the tapes can be viewed is via gatekeepers, the staff of the archive, who are often present when the footage is viewed. Thus the viewing situation in the archive at present is neither completely public nor completely private, since a tiny audience can form when certain tapes are filmed. In discussion with me, Max Stahl voiced the opinion that the tapes represent an important document of crucial events in the birth of the nation, and hoped that the archive will assist those who seek to understand the events leading to the new nation. He indicated that while the nation must go forward and put its energies into reconstruction, it is also important to maintain a lively sense of recent history, in some cases so that justice can be seen to be done, in other cases so that there is a documentary record that cannot be refuted.

At the moment, none of these three institutions is in a position to avoid, eradicate or suppress the violence that attended their beginnings, because this recent history is written into the material fabric of the spaces these institutions occupy, in the materials and objects they house and in the very people who work in them. The founders and staff of all the institutions also think about and discuss how, when and if this recent bloody history should be commemorated or neglected. The question for people active in representational institutions is how much of the recent past should be left behind, suppressed, forgotten, put aside temporarily, neglected. In Timor, where events are so recent and raw, institutions of representation of the new state face issues that were widespread in the twentieth century.

The years 2004 and 2005 have been a turning point in the issue of representation, violence and the state. The Timorese Commission of Enquiry into Genocide completed its work in 2005 and published its report. On 31 May 2004 The Sydney Morning Herald published a photo of Xanana Gusmao, a leader of the Timorese resistance movement and first president of Timor-Leste, with his arms around General Wiranto in Bali, in what was read by the newspaper as a public gesture of forgiveness (Moore 2004). This was a shocking photo to some, since General Wiranto is widely thought to have been responsible for the military orchestration of the 1999 destruction. Before we judge President Gusmao too harshly, however, and keeping in mind the cliché that diplomacy makes for strange bedfellows, we should be aware that he, along with other members of the government, most of whom were active in the resistance to Indonesia, are now responsible for lifting the country out of the dire poverty in which it has been left. The leaders recognise the need to move rapidly forward into reconstruction for the future and they must be, above all, pragmatic. This photo encapsulates this period and a sense, articulated by many with whom one speaks, that ‘it is time to move on’. But not all feel this way. The issue of representation of the horrors of the genocide and the apportioning of guilt is complex and usually couched in terms of justice. However there are also important representational issues for this new nation that have lessons for the Pacific region in general. On the one hand, justice needs to be seen to be done and records of painful events need to be engaged with rather than stored in forgotten archives, a view held by Max Stahl of the Audio-Visual Archive. On the other hand, there is now a sense that mourning, grief, fury and loss has absorbed enough energy and must be left behind, as seen in Luca Gansser encouraging his students to move away from their black paintings.

The question posed by Timor is how long should we remember, how long should we mourn and how can a new nation represent this. The same issues were circulated over 40 years ago by the film Hiroshima mon amour (Duras and Resnais 1961), a film about violence, memory, relationship and representation (Caruth 1996). If Pacific museums are the topic of this essay, this film is its leitmotif and poetic heart. The film can serve as a poetic narrative with which to think about the representation of violence in memory and in museums. If there was a birth moment of the modern Pacific, it was Hiroshima, the bombing that destroyed a city, killed thousands in seconds, produced one of the major pollutions of the ocean, and simultaneously brought the region into the new global world order.

The film, one of the iconic productions of French New Wave cinema by Alain Resnais (director) and Marguerite Duras (screenwriter), was commissioned by Japanese producers and shot in 1957. There is a museum in the opening sequences, montaged with intimate, anonymous shots of embracing bodies. These sequences, in the Hiroshima Museum, provide material evidence of the atomic bombing of the city but point to the problems of representing historical violence faced by museums. What do we experience when we see artefacts, especially those intimately connected to violence? What kind of knowledge do artefacts of history provide? The museum sequences in the film show artefacts that are meant to provide evidence of this terrible violence: photographs, human hair, burnt stone, twisted wreckage. All these are set in the new twentieth-century museum, a minimalist setting of modernist architecture. The sequence is also backed by a high-energy jazz score, in counterpoint to voiced-over dialogue, in which the French woman repeatedly tells her Japanese lover that she has seen everything in Hiroshima, and he replies repeatedly that she has seen nothing of Hiroshima. Shots of the Hiroshima Museum are montaged at regular intervals with the bodies of the two naked embracing lovers while this dialogue takes place:

She: Four times at the museum…

He: What museum in Hiroshima?

She: Four times in Hiroshima. I saw the people walking around. The people walk around, lost in thought among the photographs, the photographs, the reconstructions, for want of something else, the explanations, for want of something else.

Four times at the museum in Hiroshima.

I looked at the people. I myself looked thoughtfully at the iron. The burned iron. The broken iron, the iron made vulnerable as flesh. I saw the bouquet of bottle caps: who would have suspected that? Human skin floating, surviving, still in the bloom of its agony…

He: You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing.

(Duras and Resnais 1961, 17–18).

This film sequence raises difficult questions about representation and violence. What is real, and what fiction, phantasm, dream, memory? How do we know and experience violence? How long should we, can we, mourn? The Hiroshima Museum shown in the film is a ghettoised institution, one designed not only to represent but also to contain the violence it commemorates. The director of the film, Alain Resnais, expressed his opinion that, in order to go on with life, individuals had to forget traumatic events; however he also seems to have believed that you cannot forget until you have properly ‘remembered’ an event, that trauma must be remembered indirectly, that obvious representations of evidence miss the point of the event itself.

The Hiroshima Museum was specially designed to commemorate a terrible event and therefore faced rather different problems than those faced by cultural centres in new nations, whose brief is often to provide a positive cultural identity for an emerging civil society. Nevertheless, I suggest that the film raises, in poetic filmic form, some crucial issues relevant to all museums. When faced with the very understandable dilemmas involved in representing or memorialising violence in an institution’s own past, many museums tend to eradicate, cover over and ignore the ruins on which they are built. In the old world this erasure is so complete that we may easily forget the thefts, upheavals and murders that have often marked not only the beginning of the nation but also its history and its aesthetics. There is a cliché, one of the ten commandments of museums, to forget. One of the questions that I hope to raise here is to what extent this old world commandment has been, should be or can be continued in the Pacific region where we are seeing a rebirth of the museum.

I realise that when discussing this issue one enters often-trodden, indeed endlessly trodden, territory. One can find shelves of volumes that circulate around the issue of, as it is often phrased, ‘representing the unrepresentable’ and ‘imagining the unimaginable’. The Holocaust of World War II, in particular, continues to generate heated debate, which, understandably, casts a long shadow (Young 1994). Despite this plethora, there is little about the subject specifically addressing the Pacific, despite its relevance to a region with an often violent colonial history.

The question of memorialisation in a Pacific museum or cultural centre is not a simple one, and is linked to many other issues, such as the extent to which codes of the representation of violence, or its suppression, are appropriate to this part of the world. There seems to be a perception that representations of the past involving violence picture a community as simply either victims or perpetrators of wrongdoing. This, in turn, leads to the notion that violence in history should be forgotten, left out, in favour of more positive, hopeful images. One may wonder, however, if perhaps this erasure has gone too far, so far that the bright spaces of the new museums seem totally unconnected from the reality that surrounds them. The lack of reference to a tortured history parallels the distaste of governments for any view of history that departs from the idea of a triumphal march. From this perspective, museums do indeed risk becoming too-obedient servants of the state. Still relevant in this region is the film Hiroshima mon amour, together with the questions it raises about memory and forgetfulness.

I don’t intend to suggest that Timor or New Caledonia holds lessons about representation for other places or that a formula can resolve the issues of violence and its representation in museums in the Pacific. Timor has its own bloody, difficult birth. What I am suggesting is that Timor can reminds us, as those who work in or write about museums, of what we might like to forget, the violence of many births and beginnings. Thinking about Timor exposes the horns of a dilemma. What do we risk in remembering, memorialising and representing violence, mourning, grief and loss? Having visited Timor at this particular time I think this is a serious question. One view is that memorialisation will absorb the energy needed for the life of the nation to continue. Another view cautions against museums repressing violence. As has often been noted, repression itself has high costs, the repressed tends to return, and the return of the repressed is often marked by extreme forms of violence. Most significantly, this suppression of violence can lead to a kind of entrancement with the nation-state in its triumphant and bureaucratic mode, the state at its most banal. We also risk sterility and banality in how we speak about and write of museums, because when we erase violence or banish it from discussion we tend to erase the poetic as well. Hayden White suggests that ‘Every discipline is constituted by what it forbids its practitioners to do… The price paid is a considerable one. It has resulted in the repression of the conceptual apparatus… and the remission of the poetic moment… to the interior of the discourse…’ (White 2004, 27).

Suppression of violence has a high poetic cost, one that ignores interiority and intimacy, which are, after all, a necessary part of the foundations of that community the institution is meant to serve. No matter how much we ‘forget’, the film Hiroshima mon amour suggests that chance encounters can trigger these memories. At least one critic feels that Resnais does not wish the past to reside in the present, and he pushes it back into its own realm: ‘Resnais believes one can keep on living only by forgetting. No matter how important is that which we have experienced and are going to forget – sooner or later’ (Lanzoni 2002, 229).

It may seem that I have ignored one crucial focus of recent discussions and this is the question of how to represent violence. I don’t intend to ignore this problem. In societies entranced with consumerism one has to give much thought to the how of representation, and in what kinds of spaces. As Susan Sontag wrote:

certain photographs – emblems of suffering, such as the snapshot of the little boy in the Warsaw Ghetto – can be used like momento mori, as objects of contemplation to deepen one’s sense of reality, as secular icons, if you will. But that would seem to demand the equivalent of a sacred or meditative space in which to look at them. Space reserved for being serious is hard to come by in a modern society, whose chief model of a public space is the mega-store (which may also be an airport or a museum) (Sontag 2003, 107).

The film Hiroshima mon amour signals the issue of the how, the form of representation. The questions raised by Timor-Leste’s current situation don’t have simple answers but I am concerned that these issues be raised in discussions about museums. My point here is that serious consideration of the questions of violence and its representation should be taken up by museums, otherwise they risk becoming banal empty spaces, too-obedient servants of the state.


As this paper was about to be published, Timor-Leste returned to widespread media attention once again as the new nation erupted in political upheaval and street violence, particularly in the capital Dili, the site of the institutions that have been discussed in this essay. At this point the prime minister, Mari Alkateri, has resigned and an interim government will probably be formed by President Xanana Gusmao and members of the Fretilin Party, with Jose Ramos Horta the most likely candidate for prime minister. Many internally displaced people, especially women and children, have fled their homes and are living as refugees in their own country. Arte Moris, the art school discussed in this essay, has become a temporary home for hundreds of people, as staff and students at the school struggle to raise funds to feed and house the refugees. It is undoubtedly too early to predict the trajectory of events in Timor; however one thing does seem clear: recent events will make even more complex any future representation of the birth of this nation.


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Cite this chapter as: Losche, Diane. 2006. ‘Hiroshima mon amour: Representation and violence in new museums of the Pacific’. South Pacific Museums, edited by Healy, Chris; Witcomb, Andrea. Monash University ePress: Melbourne. pp. 17.1–17.11.

© Copyright 2006 Diane Losche
All rights reserved. Apart from any uses permitted by Australia’s Copyright Act 1968, no part of this book may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission of the copyright owners. The fact that this book is published online does not mean that any part of it can be reproduced without first obtaining written permission: copyright laws do still apply. Inquiries should be directed to the publisher, Monash University ePress:

South Pacific Museums: Experiments in Culture

   by Chris Healy and Andrea Witcomb