From a 2,000-year-old natural pearl found in a Kimberley rockshelter to modern lustrous pearl jewellery, Lustre: Pearling and Australia weaves together the diverse strands of Australia’s pearling heritage.
Drawing on Aboriginal, Asian and European stories, Lustre traces pearling across the north of Australia, from Shark Bay to the Torres Strait Islands. It reveals the natural world, the traditions of Aboriginal Australians who have harvested pearlshell for over 20,000 years, and the complex and enduring relationships of the people who made and defined the pearling industry.
Pearling’s colonial history is harsh, and characterized by the exploitation of cheap Aboriginal and Asian labour. This gritty history is counterbalanced by the power of tradition, and the sheer beauty of shell and pear.
Many cultures of the world share a sense of mystery and fascination with pearlshell and pearls as objects of desire, wealth, prestige, magic and power, frequently linking the shimmer with ideas of rainbows, rain, and water – the essence of life.
Cloaked in the iridescent colours of mother of pearl, this stunning exhibition invites visitors to explore the aesthetic, ethnographic, archaeological, historical, ecological and zoological aspects of the pearling story through interpretive and interactive experiences.
Lustre was curated in a partnership between the Western Australian Museum and Nyamba Buru Yawuru. The exhibition is sponsored by Visions of Australia.