How are a 3D printed copy of an ancient artefact, a Dhoeri Headdress from Torress Strait, an iconic image of Christine Keeler, the lower jaw section of a sperm whale and a John Brack portrait of Sir Garfield Barwick and Professor A. G. Mitchell related?  They are all items within the collections of Sydney’s third university.  They all form part of the academic enterprise of higher education, each one is a window into the questions that have occupied the minds of staff and students throughout the institution’s history.  They are material manifestations of an organisation’s cultural and intellectual identity and narrative.

Macquarie University is 50 years old in 2014.  Such an august landmark focusses attention on questions about who we are as an institution.

A collective of museum people at Macquarie decided that one way to represent who we are would be through a collective exhibition that focussed on the academic mission at our university and how this is manifested regarding our university’s experience of material culture in higher education.  It was an interesting process to bring together science and humanities collection managers and researchers to explore the question of what unites us apart from the obvious institutional focus.  Discussions revealed that there are lots of linkages and associations between the processes of production and dissemination of knowledge regardless of what academic discipline is represented by a collection.

From this the exhibition “Affinities: 7 museums, 50 objects” was drawn together by a curatorial team of 22 people with generous support from many others.

It is on show at the Macquarie University Art Gallery from March 14 to May 25, 2014 as a contribution to the Macquarie University’s Jubilee year.

Here is a link to one of the brief catalogue essays on the subject of “why universities collect“.

Andrew Simpson

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