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Memento : Issue 16
january 2001 memento Ilan Pasin is the first comprehensive exhibition of Torres Strait Island art ever seen in Australia. This touring exhibition from Cairns Regional Gallery opened at our building in Canberra on 1 November 2000. The title Ilan Pasin, which translates from Kriol as 'this is our way', refers to a way of life as well as asserting the independence and tenacity of Torres Strait Islander culture. While many Australians recognise the Torres Strait Islands as the birthplace of Eddie Mabo whose life-long fight for land rights culminated in the 1992 Mabo judgement, many of us are unfamiliar with the culture and history of the Torres Strait Islands and their people. The distinctive traditions of the Torres Strait Islands have survived colonialism, change and globalisation. As Eddie Mabo argued successfully in the High Court of Australia, this continuity of culture overturned the concept of terra nullius. Ilan Pasin, curated by Tom Mosby and Brian Robinson, is very much a world first in bringing together rare historical objects and contemporary art works. Assembled from major Australian public museums and galleries and a range of private collections, the works include sculpture, painting, textiles, works on paper, installations and curious dance machines (modern masks, often with movable parts, used in dance performances). A rare gem is the century-old Dhoeri or dance headdress collected along with some 1800 objects as part of Alfred Court Haddon's 1898 Cambridge anthropological expedition to the Torres Strait. Visitors to the Ilan Pasin exhibition were treated to a traditional dance performance by Gerib Sik. Photo by Steve Keough At the opening of the exhibition, former Director of the National Gallery of Australia Betty Churcher praised the artists, curators and funding agencies for bringing this important exhibition to the Australian public. Tom Mosby spoke eloquently about the significance of the exhibition to Torres Strait youth in maintaining cultural pride, continuity of traditions and personal identity. In a series of events following the launch, Tom Mosby and artist Ellen José shared their insights into the exhibition with an enthralled audience, and a crowd of over 200 people enjoyed a Torres Strait cultural festival which included music, dance, games and film. A highlight of the festival was the attendance of celebrity footballer Mal Meninga. The National Archives is the final venue in an extensive Australia-wide tour. Don't miss the opportunity to see this fascinating exhibition before it concludes in February. Turtle-shell mask by Victor McGrath, 1991. Beizam (Hammerhead shark) dance mask by Ken Thaiday Snr, 1994. Artefacts of Torres Strait before LMS (London Missionary Society) by Richardo Idagi, 1998. From left to right: Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, Acting Director-General of the Archives, together with Betty Churcher, former Director of the National Gallery of Australia and Tom Mosby, a curator of the Ilan Pasin exhibition. Photo by Steve Keough 9