This page contains access to the recordings and information about past seminars in our Material Histories Seminar Series.

For information about our coming program, please see the main page.

Refugee Objects

Held Friday 4 November 2022 at 1pm

View the recording on YouTube

First speaker:

Crafting Absence: how art gives voice to absent stories

Recent acquisitions in Museum Victoria's migration-related collections demonstrate the importance of creative practice in the representation of refugee experiences and how this is made manifest through material culture. In particular, the Museum is seeking to give space to the stories of people who have actively tried to seek refuge in Australia - some who have been prevented from doing so.

These ‘absent stories’ are nevertheless Australian stories and it is extremely challenging to represent them through material culture. This activity also raises ethical questions about how to enable refugees and asylum seekers to give voice to their own stories, while ‘safely’ sharing publicly the stories of vulnerable people.

'Refugee Journey', drawing by Zahra Jafari, Indonesia, 2015. Museums Victoria Collection

Dr Moya McFadzean is Senior Curator, Migration & Cultural Diversity at Museums Victoria. Her curatorial work develops collections and exhibitions which consider Australian migration, refugee and asylum seeker narratives, and themes of identity, belonging and diversity. She is interested in the role of museums as sites of social activism and their potential for developing relationships of genuine engagement and reciprocity with communities.

Second Speaker:

Photo Album Woven Cover: Connecting family, documenting work, and depicting Displaced People in Germany after WWII

Photo albums can be fascinating objects of material culture, and are more than the sum of the images that fill their pages. I will focus on one such album, created by Esma Banner (1910-2001), who was a keen amateur photographer and was a post-WII reconstruction worker in Germany. This album, in Museum Victoria’s collection, was a 1946 Christmas gift sent to her sister. Through it, we can see how familial relationships were maintained, how Esma valued the professional relief work she did, alongside partial insights into the experiences of the refugees who were the focus of her work and photographs.

Photo Album, Museums Victoria

Dr Mary Tomsic is a Research Fellow in the Research Centre for Refugees, Migration and Humanitarian Studies at Australian Catholic University. She is cultural historian whose research focuses on visual representations of child refugees, children’s cultural expression in histories of migration and how these circulate in the public realm.

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Unpicking Fashionable Objects

Friday 10 March at 1pm

Recording coming soon

First speaker:

Whalebone and its Afterlife: Fashion Innovation, Adaptation and Sustainability, c. 1600-1950 

For over four hundred years whale baleen (historically known as whalebone) was sought after for use in western fashion manufacturing where this plastic-like material was used to create a wide range of men and women’s garments and accessories, most notably corsetry. This talk draws upon objects of European and Australian provenance that utilised whalebone and its substitutes (reeds, cane, steel and plastics) between 1600-1950 to explore how the historical uses of whalebone intersect with concerns about innovation and manufacturing, economics and availability, and ethical questions about the environmental sustainability of fashion.

Sarah A Bendall is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, Australian Catholic University. She is a material culture historian whose work specialises in the roles of gender in the production, trade and consumption of global commodities and fashionable consumer goods between 1500-1800.

Second speaker:

Needs Must: German Paper Suits and the legacy of wartime woollen shortages.

New Jersey’s Newark Museum holds two suits made of spun paper yarns, donated in 1920 as examples of the response to cloth shortages faced by Germany and her allies during World War I.  As a fashion curiosity the suits have some interesting details of cut and construction. But the suits’ historical context takes us beyond fashion. This presentation explores their complexities and contemporary relevance, linking fashion with the murky worlds of politics, military strategies, economic warfare, and eventually, the triumph of synthetic over natural fibers: the subject of the speakers’ book-in-process, Fleeced: Wool, War and the Rise of Synthetics.

Photograph courtesy Stephen Harrison of Rogue Productions.

Madelyn Shaw is a textile curator, historian and author, recently retired from the NMAH, Smithsonian Institution. Trish FitzSimons is a documentary filmmaker, historian, author and adjunct Professor of Griffith Film School. They share a research project entitled Fabric of War: a hidden history of the global wool trade.

Material Histories is presented by Old Treasury Building in partnership with Australian Catholic University.

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