We Bury Our Own is a series of photographs by Christian Thompson which focus on the ‘spiritual repatriation of the archive’.
The repatriation of human remains and artefacts is always steeped in deep spiritual significance. Photographs are believed to have a spiritual connection to the person in the picture and even when these photographs are returned they can exist as reproductions (both physically and digitally) in institutions and collections all over the world. This creates a tension that lies at the heart of Thompson’s work.
In Thompsons work you can see evidence of fragility and melancholy alongside opulence, homage and strength. The covering of Thompson’s eyes in each image prevents you from fully connecting with him and forces you to connect with the other elements within the photograph.
Here Thompson talks about a story he heard about an indigenous ceremony:
“I heard a story many years ago from some old men, they told me about a ceremony where young warriors would make incisions through the flesh exposing the joints, they would insert gems between the bones to emulate the creator spirits, often enduring infection and agonising pain or resulting in death. The story has stuck with me for many years, one that suggests immense pain fused with intoxicating beauty. The idea of aspiring to embody the creators, to transgress the physical body by offering to our gods our spiritual heart, freeing ourselves of suffering by inducing a kind of decadent torture.”
Christian Thompson was one of the first Aboriginal Australians to be accepted into Oxford University. He continues to live and work there.
You can find more information on his website.
You can also read more about this exhibition on the Pitt Rivers Museum website. After the exhibition closed they acquired a piece for their permanent collection which can be seen as you ascend the stairs to the upper galleries.