Trading Lines is a photo essay that tracks nearly twenty years of research within international museums as well as collecting and sharing photographs and objects. This research began in 1996 at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, where I encountered an Aboriginal skull from N.S.W. Australia —that was part of the active international Aboriginal human remains trade activated from the early 18th century. This photo essay shares correspondence between myself and private and public collection managers and collectors. Some images are from actual installations where I have combined objects with artworks, as a whole, it is an attempt to draw lines between pure collection activities and legitimate anguish many people feel for not only their cultural heritage but also those of the human remains trade. Even though repatriation of human remains to Aboriginal communities in Australia has been an active endeavor over the last 10 or more years, many human remains, photos and other important documents are still being uncovered, repatriated and traded. The comparable texts and images explore the margins of both museum practice and community involvement and understanding of these actions and communications. I intend to present this photo essay as an archive that engages people within their own curiosity of access to a complex world of negotiations. Further documents, human remains and other materials are gradually and continually unearthed in museums and sold through private collections and markets. Reflecting on this, who owns their own culture and history, and how does a culture remember when they are not in receipt of their cultural materials. I hope to stimulate important considerations about the power of a public archive, noting the complex protocol tensions that can arise and how these lines or margins are negotiated, crossed, hidden or shared.
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