The dancing trees: objects, facts and ideas in museums. In From Field to Museum—Studies from Melanesia in Honour of Robin Torrence, ed. Jim Specht, Val Attenbrow, and Jim Allen
In this paper we consider the ways that museum objects have multiple and mutable identities through a focus on three objects from the southeast coast of Papua New Guinea. Our approach is to scrutinise the materiality of these three objects to understand the ways that an object changes physically and symbolically from the point of making, to collection, through to museum acquisition and potential exchange, conservation, exhibition and research. Through this approach we show how small “fact” details about objects from museum documentation systems become entangled in ideas and notions far beyond those of the times in which the objects were created and collected. We conclude that to understand museum objects we need to recognise their roles in the socio-cultural worlds of their makers and those of the collector-museum.