5 minutes with Dr Brit Asmussen

Spend five minutes with Dr Brit Asmussen, Acting Principal Curator, Cultures and Histories as she chats about her work as a research scientists and her favourite items in the Queensland Museum Collection.

What is your favourite object in the collection and why?

I currently work across several collections (Indigenous Cultures, Archaeology, Antiquities, World Cultures), and I find the more I work with the really wide range of objects held in the Queensland Museum Collection, the more I appreciate them and the people, history, and relationships they represent.

Within the antiquities collection, there is a wooden hawk I rather like, for how beautifully is has been sculpted, and how it has weathered. It is from Egypt and would have originally been brightly painted but the colours have been lost. If you know how to look there are the faintest traces left around the eyes.

As an archaeologist, the things I work with often are very old. They don’t look like they originally did. Part of the analytic journey is to see those things as they are today, but also to see them as they once were.  This object always reminds me of a quote from the children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margerie Williams – “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Tell us a little bit about your area and why do you love working in this specific research area?

I am also a research scientist and I am a member of different research teams utilising collaborative community-based archaeological and anthropological research projects.  My aim in my research is to make personal meaningful connections between objects/specimens and people, over vast amounts of time. 

These projects focus on examining long term, deep time relationships between Aboriginal people and their Country  (CABAH ), Indigenous peoples’ experiences of colonialism and foodways in the negotiation of power in colonial settings   and analysing different shells deposited millennia ago by Aboriginal people (archived in archaeological middens), to reconstruct the world’s oceans before major human impact

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What is your favourite thing about your role at the museum? Why?

I very much enjoy the special moments where, working in collaboration and partnership alongside people, you can bring things unseen back into the light, and re-discover connections between people, ancestors, objects and reveal information.  Even relatively small gestures can have enormous impact.

What is one of the most interesting facts you have discovered through working at the museum?

The Book of the Dead discovery in 2012 was certainly an amazing discovery! I love moments when you are able to connect an object in the collection to a real person in space and time.

Another moment would be researching and learning about the objects in the collection, and tracing their journey from maker to being a part of Queensland Museum. It is amazing that the complicated history that even just one object can have. Even though objects may have been collected over 150 years ago, they still hold significant meaning and relevance today to a wide range of clients that utilise the Queensland Museum collections from community members, researchers, children, and visitors.

What is your favourite exhibition at the museum and why?

My recent favourite exhibition is Antiquities Revealed, which I was fortunate to curate. Part of the work curators undertake in exhibitions is to research each object that goes on display.  I have been involved in curating a wide range of exhibitions, and the thing I love most is the creativity of exhibitions, collaborating with exhibition designers on design and layout. I also love finding the stories that might captivate people, and making the objects the ‘hero’ on display. 

Learn more about Dr Brit Asmussen here.

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