Paul Turnbull


This presentation arises out of a chance discovery, some five years ago, of an unusual plaster head of Indigenous Australian man, found in the Anatomy Institute of the University of Cologne. The head is unusual in that it has carefully sculpted hair and a full beard. Research by colleagues and myself has confirmed that it is a copy of a head moulded in Berlin the 1920s, using the real head of a man from the remote north of Western Australia. After moulding the head, hairs were set into the moist plaster torecreate the man’s head of hair and bushy beard. Afterwards the real head was dissected. The skull and possibly the brain were kept but have since been lost.

Earlier this year, the presence of the plaster head in Cologne became known to the Kimberley Abo-riginal Arts and (Cultural) Law Centre (KALACC), an organisation representing for many years the cultural aspirations of Indigenous communities in the remote Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. The reaction of Kimberley community Elders wasdistress and anger. They want the head returned for burial by the man’s community.

As this presentation explains, the response of Kimberley Elders challenges us to rethink how we regard anthropological artefacts such as plaster heads, crania and endocranial casts that now lie stored in museums of the North. And in this presentation,I share some reflections on the meanings, values and future of these objects in the context of current discourse on the future of colonial era anthropo-logical collections.

Text of the full presentation here.