Publication Details

Krishnabhakdi-Vasilakis, F. "The virtual museum of the Pacific: new context, new knowledge, new art." Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools Conference. Ed. N. Frankham & M. Sierra. Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools online publication: ACUADS, 2010. 1-12.


In a post colonial world, traditional representations of cultural artifacts in museums are challenged by rapidly proliferating online presence of collections and associated narratives. The Virtual Museum of the Pacific (VMP) project, which can be characterised as a digital ecosystem, is developing a social media platform designed to enable a variety of user communities to engage with the Pacific Collections of the Australian Museum. This engagement has the potential to disrupt the museum’s control over the display and interpretation of its ethnographic collections. There is a growing trend for artists from Indigenous or creator communities, whose cultural heritage is heavily represented in museums, to explore collections to rediscover their ancestral heritage. In contrast to the primitivist assumptions that informed Modernist artists who drew on collected artifacts in their work, the work of these artists renews and re-contextualises processes of creating objects or challenges assumptions about museum displays and how they frame knowledge. The VMP is an interdisciplinary Australian Research Council Linkage Project developed by a University of Wollongong research team in partnership with the Australian Museum. Based on a system known as Collection Web, it combines content management systems for objects with accessible social media user interfaces and aims to support users to extend the annotation of objects in culturally specific ways. Currently, user evaluations are being used to inform the system’s development and foster a more dynamic exchange of knowledge between institutions and communities of users. A survey of staff working in education and community access at the Australian Museum shows that the potential of such a forum has been identified by staff working in education and community access at the Australian Museum. There is also a strong view that collaboration with artists from creator communities is the key to transforming the VMP into an innovative access tool for the Museum’s Pacific Collections.