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Cracks in the Mask
A Film by Frances Calvert
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film stillThe mysterious and elaborate turtleshell masks collected last century in Torres Strait in far north Australia are unique and irreplaceable, yet there are now none left in Torres Strait. They are all in foreign museums.

Ephraim Bani, a witty and knowledgeable Torres Strait Islander and an expert on his people's myths and legends, sets out on a voyage of discovery to the great museums of Europe where his cultural heritage now lies. The film asks: what happens when he encounters and meditates on his patrimony and secondly, what consequences does this hold for us in the West?

Ephraim fills in some of the gaps in his history, including film and sound recordings made by the Cambridge Anthropological Expeditions in 1898. Unburdening himself to his diary in moments of poignant revelation, Bani subjects the museum to a novel form of scrutiny.

Going beyond the overly familiar arguments about pillage and art-theft, three avant-garde curators provide thought-provoking and sometimes surprising challenges to museums in the West and how they reflect our cultural proclivities. The film shows how museums decontextualize cultures - the so-called "poetics of detachment" - and exclude the very people whose ancestors created the objects in the first place.Mask

"A treasure trove of superbly photographed Torres Strait pieces. But these, impressive as they may be, are incidental. The lasting impression is one of separation and loss of a people and its past... A film which questions the very idea of a museum and shows how troubled many museum curators are about their role today."- Oceanic Art Society Newsletter

"Fills in some of the gaps in Torres Strait Island history, and, at the same time, exposes the cracks in the current collection policies of some of Europe's museums."- Aerial

"Reveals a story about museums and about objects - about what museums do and about their rationale for continuing to hold such objects, and about the meaning of these objects for Torres Strait Islanders today... A moving, often poignant representation of issues surrounding the return of such collections to the descendants of their original owners. The discussions about the relationship between objects, culture, memory, history, identity, and cultural reclamation all converge to provoke reflection and thought about these issues."- Martin Nakata, University of South Australia, for The Contemporary Pacific

Audience Award and Honorable Mention, EthnoFilmFest, Berlin 1997
Estonian National Museum's Prize for Best Film, Pärnu Film Festival 1998
Margaret Mead Film Festival

58 minutes / Color
Release: 1998
Copyright: 1997

For colleges, universities, government agencies, hospitals and corporations

This DVD is sold with a license for institutional use and Public Performance rights.

Subject areas:
Anthropology, Art, Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Globalization, Indigenous Peoples, Museum Studies, Native People

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