Archives: the Ethics of Keeping

A Research Symposium held by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Sydney) in partnership with the State Library of NSW.

Tuesday 26 July 2016, 9am–12.30pm
Venue: Powerhouse Museum

500 Harris St, Ultimo NSW 2007


Explore the central and sometimes difficult topics concerning judgments and the place of the archive in contemporary society. In this symposium, speakers question and reconceptualise the idea of the archive. They will interrogate and upend understandings and practices of access, control, agency, power, choice, including the act of repurposing in the creative process. Private, public, cultural, legal, factual, interpreted and other categorisations of the archive are discussed by a series of experts offering different ways of thinking. How are cultural institutions and others addressing these ethical issues and taking the idea of the archive into a new era?



9.00am Registration
9.30am Welcome Dolla Merrillees, MAAS Director
9.35am Introduction Judy Coombes, Head of Strategic Collections, MAAS & Richard Neville Mitchell Librarian and Director, Education & Scholarship SLNSW
9.40am More than an Aboriginal informant or memory machine Professor Kathy Bowrey, Faculty of Law, UNSW
10.00am Who goes there – slipping through the gates Agatha Gothe-Snape, Artist
10.20am Morning Tea
11.00am The Future Feminist Archive? Jo Holder, Director and Curator, Cross Art Projects
11.20am Contested Archives: facilitating respectful access and conversation  Kirsten Thorpe, Archivist and Manager of the Indigenous Services Branch, SLNSW
11.40am Archival Ethics in Health and Medicine: Old Roads, New Times Tilly Boleyn, Curator, MAAS
12.00pm Discussion, Q&A
12.30pm Finish


Professor Kathy Bowrey, Faculty of Law, UNSW, will discuss why permission from Indigenous owners is not enough to ground ethical museum practice, reflecting on the problems faced by Indigenous persons who seek to challenge or disrupt stories and exhibitions that speak of them, about them and for them.
Agatha Gothe-Snape, Artist, Using visual art as a framework will describe how artworks such as Every Artist Remembered (2009 – 2013), Rhetorical Chorus (2015) and Here, An Echo (2016) flirt with the canon of 20th century cultural production, and use its contents as a source of productive irritation. These works also problematise the privileged position of those who survey and control entry points in the creation of history and ask us to consider to whom we surrender this power.
Jo Holder, Director and Curator, Cross Art Projects, will talk on the findings and speculations of Future Feminist Archive, a multi-facetted project and generative form of community-based, artistic practice reflecting current feminist ideas about contemporary art as a social practice.
Kirsten Thorpe, Archivist and Manager of the Indigenous Services Branch, SLNSW, will discuss navigating the archive from an Indigenous perspective. She will explore questions of how Indigenous archivists can assist opening up and challenging of traditional archival spaces.
Tilly Boleyn, Curator, MAAS, Using local and international examples, from the mundane to macabre, Tilly Boleyn will discuss archival ethics in relation to health and medicine. Governed by institutional policy, the legal system and moral imperative Tilly will explore how this material moves between private and public realms.

The fourth in the MAAS Professional Series, this symposium aims to foster an open and creative dialogue between museum professionals, providing the opportunity to network, share information and develop a collaborative approach to addressing important issues facing the museum sector.

For enquiries, please contact Sharon Dickson, +61 (02) 9217 0192 or

For bookings, go to this page.