The Southeast Asia-Pacific Audiovisual Archive Association (SEAPAVAA) held its annual conference in Noumea, New Caledonia, 27-29 June. Around 100 people from archives and libraries gathered at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre to discuss Memory, History, Archives, the theme of this year’s conference. The conference opened with a traditional Kanak welcome, where participants presented their gifts to the hosts. This took part in the ceremonial area of the Centre. (photo)
The opening keynote speaker was Emmanuel Tjibaou, the Cultural Director of the Tjibaou Centre. He began his presentation saying that memory is the basis on which traditional archives are founded; and it is generally accepted that there needs to be a written form to have a preserved form. But oral traditions must also become part of what we preserve - the stories and traditions of the land. The notion of memory as represented by archives is of preservation; whereas oral traditions are very much alive and evolving. He said that memory is evolving and we need to use archives for re-creation and renewal. When elders give speeches, they reinvent their words to reflect the current situation. Archives in New Caledonia are mainly colonial, and there needs to be a new approach to archiving audio visual history in order to build a strong identity, because culture identifies how identity and personality are built.
Mick Newnham, formerly of the National Film and Sound Archive and now a Cultural Conservation Consultant, titled his talk Revisiting ethnographic collections. He started by saying how only recently the editor of National Geographic apologised for the racist depiction of indigenous people. The first ethnographic recording in the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia goes back to 1891. There has been a disregard for intellectual property in collecting institutions which goes beyond hurt and anger, it erodes culture. Australian laws only protect individual Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) - this is common across the world and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is still grappling with this problem with no progress after many years. There are principles included in the UNESCO rights of indigenous people, but these are non-binding and there is no community owned copyright. In New Zealand patent laws protect Maori stories. Generally there is a lack of legal recognition, there are no legal protocols, and there can also be funding issues, for example conditions that may stipulate that there is no funding for preservation without access.
Mick also talked about warnings on films and while there are protocols around deceased persons, these are passive not active. He gave the example of Adam and the Ants who appropriated the music of the Burundi drummers with no compensation for the drummers’ intellectual property or indeed any recognition at all. We need to respect the culture that owns the intellectual property and there need to be proper processes in place to protect people’s rights. Institutions who manage collections of indigenous content must respect content and the intent / context of content.
Dr Ray Edmondson, Friends of National Film and Sound Archive of Australia and Founding President of SEAPAVAA, gave a very interesting talk about the politics of memory and what is meant by “history.” We retain memory by documenting it and history is the construct we put on past events. He gave two definitions of history, “History is written by the victors” (attributed to Winston Churchill) and “History is an unending dialogue between the present and the past” (E.H. Carr.) He spoke about the Memory of the World program and how UNESCO uses the concept of memory institutions not history institutions.
Ray also spoke about fake memory and gave a number of fascinating examples of how the equivalent of “fake news” has been around for a long time. The Donation of Constantine was a forged Roman imperial decree which was supposedly written in 315 AD by Constantine the Great transferring authority to Rome, and was used hundreds of years later to grant land to the Pope. While its authenticity was long disputed, it was not until the 1400s it was proved to be fake. Another example is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion - and while some places still consider it genuine, it is not. He gave other notable examples of how the audiovisual record has been altered - Joyce Hatto was an English concert pianist and piano teacher. Hatto became famous very late in life when unauthorised copies of commercial recordings made by other pianists were released under her name, earning her high praise from critics. The fraud did not come to light until 2007, more than six months after her death. Orson Wells’ War of the World’s broadcast in 1938 has become famous for supposedly tricking some of its listeners into believing that a Martian invasion was actually taking place. The Cottingley Fairies appear in a series of five photographs taken by two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England in 1917. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used them to illustrate an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write. The girls subsequently admitted the photographs were fake.
Noa Petueli Tapumanaia, Director of the Tuvalu National Library and Archives, talked about archives as a source of collective and individual memories. He showed a slide with a quote from Master Navigator Chief Larry Raigetal, who said that “The first, last and most important lesson of celestial navigation: you must always know where your island is. You MUST know where you have come from to know where you are going.” Noa said there needs to be a House of Memories to preserve knowledge and that traditional knowledge is often undermined and trivialised because it relies on memory through oral tradition.
Jan Müller, CEO of Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), described how the institution is moving from analogue to digital. The four key areas are collections, exhibitions, processes, and people and culture. NFSA is now working on how to store and retrieve Virtual Reality content. Jan said we should embrace the data, and data analytics enables us to tell informed stories to our stakeholders. NFSA doesn’t do things on their own any more - everything they do is with others.
Sopheap Chea from the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre in Cambodia described how they are gathering and archiving Khmer Rouge survivors’ testimonies by encouraging young people to interview their parents and grandparents about their experiences. This is a multi-faceted approach - as well as being able to gather and preserve these memories, the process is cathartic for those impacted by the mass killings under Pol Pot.
There was a presentation on the Home Movie Centre in Japan which holds a 24-hour home movie day marathon. There is a Centre for home movies website which shows how to preserve home movies and also a venue to show them. In 2019, 88 venues in 23 countries participated in the Home Movie Day and Night, and the next one will be on 19 October 2019. People are encouraged to join the marathon which is webcast on YouTube.
It was also great to have a panel of four Pacific women archivists: Verenaisi Bavadra spoke about the challenges of archiving and preservation in the Marshall Island libraries; Aileen Boubou gave a report on the Kiribati National Archives; Halora Fadotou told us about the Palau Judiciary Archive; and Ingrid Waneux-Utchaou reported on the New Caledonia Archives.
I gave a presentation on IFLA and what it is doing in relation to cultural memory, including information about the Preservation and Conservation Centres, advocacy and cooperation with others in the Persist Project which is part of Memory of the World, and the Blue Shield. I also talked about the Pacific Libraries Network and the unique opportunity we had to bring librarians from all over the Pacific together last June in Fiji to talk about strengthening public libraries to better serve their communities.
General discussion following the presentations included how to manage culturally sensitive material, for example, there was a film made by a German anthropologist in the 1950s in Alice Springs that has been recently found. It is in good condition, and because it includes secret men’s business it needs to be locked away. But the owners were able to view it and the film filled in gaps in their traditional knowledge. Another example was the Marshall Islands where people hide their memories because they are too painful - the impact of the Bikini Atoll bombings led to the birth of jelly fish babies which people still cannot talk about.
The afternoon of the second day was a practical example of the power of audiovisual archives, where people presented historical films that belong to their institutions. This was picked up by the local television station which gave the conference good coverage. There were some marvellous historical films of Noumea from the Australian National Film and Sound Archive, and important films that have recently been discovered, such as the coronation of the Thai king in the 1920s.
Following the conference, we visited the National Archives of New Caledonia, which has an impressive collection of colonial records and many personal photos that have been donated to the Archives over the years. I also visited Bibliothèque Bernheim. The library is in a building from the early 1980s that architecturally reflects the Eiffel Building directly opposite. The structure for the Eiffel Building was sent out from Paris in 1901 following the Paris Exposition, and was home to the library and museum for many years. There are plans for a large-scale renovation of the library and the historical building.
The conference was held at the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, which celebrates the vernacular Kanak culture, the indigenous culture of New Caledonia. It opened in 1998 and was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and named after Jean-Marie Tjibaou, the leader of the independence movement who was assassinated in 1989. It is a very striking and beautiful building and it includes culturally significant landscaping.
I was honoured to be invited to the SEAPAVAA conference, I learned a lot about memory, archives and the philosophy that guides archivists. I was impressed by the depth of their discussions and their thoughtful approach as they grapple with what and how to preserve historical audiovisual materials. SEAPAVAA is proud of the collegiality and sharing culture of their group and I heard it being described as a family a number of times. I was very happy to be part of this welcoming family gathering and I hope it leads to even greater future collaboration between libraries and archives. Many thanks to the warm hospitality provided by our host, Christophe Augias of the Bibliothèque Bernheim.