At British Museum Protest, Australian Aboriginal Activist Demands Repatriation of Ancestor’s Shield

Hyperallergic, Isabella Smith
June 18, 2017

"Yesterday, Australian Aboriginal rights activist Rodney Kelly visited the British Museum to demand the return of an artifact with a potent history: the Gweagal shield. The shield belonged to Kelly’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Cooman, and was seized in 1770 by Captain James Cook during the first encounter between the British and Indigenous Australians. It was later given to the British Museum. The bark shield bears a bullet hole, marking the first shot fired in the long history of violence toward the continent’s Indigenous people.

Kelly, who has been campaigning for the shield’s return to Australia, visited the BM yesterday to hold a series of unsanctioned “rebel lectures” aiming to expose the shield’s history, discuss other ill-gotten items in the museum’s collection, and explain — with support from theatrical protest group BP Or Not BP? — why oil giant BP is an unacceptable sponsor for the museum. The group says the energy giant’s sponsorship “effectively brands all the artifacts in the museum with the logo of this destructive company.” The museum signed a new five-year sponsorship deal with BP in 2016.

Kelly arrived at the BM equipped with a didgeridoo and clap sticks, and headed to the “Living and Dying” Room to speak next to a cabinet of Indigenous Australian objects. (The Gweagal shield is not currently on view as it is undergoing “scientific analysis and historical research,” according to a museum spokesperson.) Between talks, Kelly played the traditional musical instruments, and BP Or Not BP? supplemented statements on the hypocrisy of BP’s sponsorship with their own, while performers dressed as robbers held a banner with the slogan “Stolen Land, Stolen Culture, Stolen Climate.” Members passed out informational flyers that mimicked the museum’s house style, appearing at first glance to be official notices. The museum did not intervene in the unsanctioned event."

More here.