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Pasifika culture makes waves with landmark exhibition

Esther Linder -

A permanent gallery dedicated to one of the world's most significant collections of Pacific art and Cultural objects has offered a parable of perspectives.

Two canoes of people visiting the same village after evacuating from a volcanic eruption had two very different interpretations of the disaster, with one group celebrating while the other was in mourning.

"You will always find what you're looking for, if what you're looking for is all you see," the Australian Museum's curator Melissa Malu said.

The newest gallery wing at the museum, in Sydney's city centre, is called Wansolmoana - or One Salt Ocean - and is dedicated to the cultural histories and art of Pasifika people.

Ms Malu sees the gallery as a way to reframe and retell the stories of Australia's Pasifika history and offer a fresh perspective on an often less-told aspect of multiculturalism in the country.

"For many years, many centuries, our histories have been related to us through a Western lens ... (here) we've been able to come together and narrate our own stories," she said.

"These objects are significantly important to the Pacific diaspora in Australia and offer them the opportunity to reconnect with their ancestral heritage."

Melissa Malu, the curator of the Australian Museum's Pasifika collection, says it frames history.

Objects displayed in Wansolmoana include the Tai Tokelau canoe, used in the 2014 climate blockade of Newcastle Harbour, alongside a traditional Suru headdress from the island of Rotuma.

There are also ceremonial outfits from Fijian chiefs, fish hooks made from bone, shell and metal, as well as commissioned multimedia works.

The exhibition has been five years in the making and was backed with a $3 million donation from the Macdoch Foundation.

Themes of deep connection and disruptions feature in the complex history of Pacific Islanders living in Australia in an exhibition that explores slavery and colonisation in the region as well as the immediate threat of climate change.

Around 143 objects from the museum's Pasifika collection of 60,000 items are on display, with artists from across the region represented.

Artworks from Yuwi, Torres Strait and South Sea islander man Dylan Mooney, Pacific artist Angela Mooney and South Sea Islander woman Jasmine Togo-Brisby feature with historical objects in the gallery.

The museum's director and chief executive, Kim McKay, described Wansolmoana as an opportunity to celebrate Pasifika culture.

"We hope to give audiences the chance to experience the creativity and cultural diversity encountered in different parts of the Pacific," she said.

The gallery is open from Friday and forms part of the Australian Museum's permanent collection, with future exhibitions planned for the space.

Esther Linder - AAP

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