I’ve spent quite a bit of time this past week at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. The building is quite gorgeous and reminds me of Selasar Sunaryo Art Space in Bandung, Indonesia. The juxtaposition of old and new artifacts is intriguing and feels as if the past is activated in the present.

We spent some time on our last day in the Multiversity Galleries, where thousands of objects from around the world are on display in busy display cabinets and conservation drawers. The entire collection is browsable online here. It’s a bit overwhelming; the histories and cultures that surround you create such a mass/mess of energy.

The Fijian collection objects are grouped in relation to a consideration of gender, status and ceremony. In just a couple of meters and few drawers, Fiji and Fijians are summerised. These collections generally represent more about the collector than the collected; the Multiversity Galleries are a fascinating reflection of culture collecting, and the culture of collecting.

I’ve been interested recently in Fijian breastplate design; I made an impromptu appliqued hoody before leaving for Vancouver and I’m developing drawings at the moment for a new work in an upcoming exhibition.

At the Pacific Arts Association International Symposium, members of the Fijian Art Research Project delivered some fascinating papers about collecting, breastplates, Fijian liku, tattooing and weaponry. Professor Steven Hooper’s paper, Uncharted Histories of Ivory-Carving Canoe Builders and Canoe-Building Ivory Carvers in Western Polynesia, included some beautiful examples of breastplate design and construction, many of which I had never seen before. I kept thinking about the way in which a breastplate protects the heart.

The lone civavonovono (Fijian breastplate) on display in the MOA Multiversity Galleries collection is beautiful but maybe a bit lonely, so far away from home.