The collection has inspired a new book released jointly by the Vatican Museums and Aboriginal Studies Press, Australia, The Vatican Museums Indigenous Collection.
The book, which features some of the earliest known documentations of Indigenous culture, was officially launched in Canberra last week.
Fr Nicola Mapelli, curator of the Ethnological Collections at the Vatican Museums, was in Australia for the launch.
“We have a keen interest in Indigenous culture. The collection includes some of the earliest preserved Pukumani funeral poles from the Tiwi Islands, artworks from the Kimberley and gifts given to Popes on their travels,” said Fr Mapelli.
In an effort to learn about the origins of the artefacts, Fr Mapelli travelled to the Kimberley region and the Tiwi Islands. “When we went to reconnect with the communities, we asked the people about their ancestors, about the objects and about their meaning.”
The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Chairperson, Professor Michael McDaniel, said the process taken to reconnect these cultural forms with their communities is particularly significant.
“Through the process of reconnection, conversations emerged between generations about the importance of land, law and culture, and the preservation of heritage and cultural continuity,” Professor McDaniel said.
“In sharing the story of the Vatican Museums Indigenous collection, the Vatican Museums and AIATSIS have identified a shared interest in promoting dialogue and raising awareness of the richness and diversity of our cultures.”
Vatican officials claim the exhibition is one of the museums most visited, and the first one visitors come across after leaving the Sistine Chapel – a nod to the place of Indigenous Australians as one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world.
The book is available for pre-order from the AIATSIS shop and will be released in January 2018.