A diorama from the independence museum in Bali, Indonesia. Photo: Jeffrey Mellefont
On a recent trip to Indonesia I was struck by how many museums were based around dioramas. Rather than how we usually think of museums — as a display of things from the past (objects) with labels and text — many Indonesian museums are solely based around snapshots of history, with no objects in sight. They are examples of how museum-makers quite literally construct the past for their audiences.
We often think of dioramas as an outmoded, old-fashioned display method. But in Indonesia they are quite an accepted way of communicating stories. Many tell a sanctioned, official version of history. But I was surprised by just how popular they are with audiences.
Every four months or so we install a small display in our New Acquisitions Case – to highlight recently-acquired objects or collections. Our current feature is the Sam & Lyla Landau Collection. Samuel Landau’s career began in 1936 as administrative assistant to the Secretary of Defence. He became First Assistant Secretary working with the war cabinet secretariat during World War II, travelling with several prime ministerial delegations during that time.
In the 1950s he was secretary to the ANZUS meeting in Pearl Harbor; a member of the Australian delegation to Manila; the Commonwealth Conference in London; and attended the Imperial Defence College in London in 1958. From 1963 to 1973 Landau was Secretary of the Department of the Navy. In 1974 his career in the defence system took him to Washington DC as Minister for Politico-Military Affairs at the Australian Embassy. With his wife Lyla he attended many commemorative events and was often presented with small gifts and mementos which have been donated to the museum by his family.
Putting the display together starts with the curator selecting the objects and then discussing their conservation and display needs with a conservator and designer; a preparator is brought on board to make special supports; and a showcase layout is then provided by the designer. It’s a team effort that works well.