Kluge-Ruhe repatriating culturally significant items

Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 8:04 PM EDT
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ALBEMARLE CO., Va. (WVIR) - Kluge Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection is in the important process of returning pieces of art owned by Indigenous Australians.

The Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies reached out to Kluge-Ruhe.

They asked for 17 culturally significant items, in order to begin the process of returning them to the original owners.

“There is no legislation that compels us to return these items to the communities they belong to in Australia,” said Nicole Wade, collection manager and registrar at Kluge-Ruhe.

Many museums oppose making returns from their collections, but Kluge-Ruhe said agreed.

“Kluge-Ruhe is really invested in the relationship with communities with Indigenous Australians, so we felt this was the right path forward,” said Wade.

The museum obtained the items as a donation as part of Edward Ruhe’s original gift to the University of Virginia. How the Australian collectors he purchased them from obtained them remains unclear.

The items that Kluge-Ruhe currently has and is returning are mostly used in ceremonies exclusive to men.

To pay proper respect to the communities that own them, the items have never been on display, cannot be shown to the public, and cannot be handled by women.

The items being returned will go to Arrernte, Warlpiri, and Warumungu people in central Australia.

“We didn’t really need to be compelled by law to do this... we wanted to be proactive and we hope that other institutions in the U.S. would follow suit,” Wade said.

There was a pre-ceremony to welcome these art pieces back home. Upon their arrival there will be another celebration.

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