Moya Smith on Secrets of the Afterlife

Video | Updated 1 years ago

At the opening of Secrets of the Afterlife, we interviewed Moya Smith, Head of the Anthropology and Archaeology Department at Western Australian Museum, about her reflections on this blockbuster exhibition.


Interviewer: Introducing Dr Moya Smith, our Head of Anthropology and Archaeology.

Moya, there are so many interesting aspects about this exhibition. What excites you the most about it?

Moya: I think for me the most exciting thing about the exhibition is seeing objects I’ve known for decades from publications about ancient Egyptian art. To see them in reality and to see them up close in a way that you don’t see them even in the British Museum is an incredible privilege and really exciting.

But just watching them come out of the box as well when they’re unpacked is also a very exhilarating moment. Because I feel a bit like, you know, someone at Tutankhamun’s tomb when they say, ‘what have you seen’ - you say, ‘wonderful things, wondrous things’. So every unpacking becomes exciting.

Interviewer: There must be so much effort that goes into bringing an exhibition like this to Perth. What are some of the processes? How long does it take to make something like this happen?

Moya: I think we’ve collectively been working on this for over a year. It goes from that very first, ‘we’ve had this exhibition elsewhere in the world - are you interested in it?’ Then it’s the negotiation about what your space is like, what will fit in it, what objects you’d like in it, whether you need the story tweaked for a different audience – and that’s just the general background work.

Then it’s the minutiae of choosing the objects, photographing objects, condition reporting objects, unpacking objects, us doing the work to understand everything that’s coming – and through to all the minutiae of packing and transporting and receiving and building exhibition furniture. So, just a massive undertaking.

Interviewer: It is fabulous to see the Western Australian Museum working with the British Museum in this way. What would you see as the most beneficial parts of that partnership?

Moya: Well part of it is that thing about international networking, so that you know your colleagues, you know who you’re working with, you know what stories you can share. I think for us on the receiving end to have the opportunity to have some of these objects in the State is astounding.

I’m hoping that there will be a bit more of a return flow. I think curators who have been out here have been eyeing off some of the things in our collection thinking ‘we’d love to see that’…  And that would be really nice. I think that’s one of the benefits that will happen. But it also helps put us on an international footing, I think. It makes us a player in the international arena in a way that…it’s very easy to slide out of, if you’re not constantly in the public eye.

Interviewer: There’s a magnificent statue of Sekhmet behind you. What kind of value do you think does society place on these objects – is there for these objects.

Moya: For me, every individual object is something that leads us into exploring ideas about people. It’s about the people who made them, the people who used them, the people who rediscovered them, and how they’re constantly reinterpreted as a way of a window into the past, a window into understanding humans throughout generations - and it is, it’s both the ancient peoples and us as people looking at them afresh and feeling the impact of an object such as this. And Sekhmet is  particularly a powerful goddess who seems to transcend time – I just love her.

Interviewer: Dr Moya Smith, thank you very much.

Moya: Thanks Mara.