Erub Arts Research Visit

By Special Collections, SOAS Library|30th July 2019|Collections & Research|0 comments

This week’s blog comes to us from Diann Lui, Art Centre Manager at Erub Arts, following a recent research visit to SOAS Special Collections, to use material held in the London Missionary Society Archive. Erub Arts works with the local community to maintain a strong Erubian identity, by promoting their culture through contemporary art.

You may not know where Erub is or why we visited SOAS.

Erub, an island in the Torres Strait also known as Darnley Island is home to approximately 400 Erubam le (Erub People).

Artists from Erub Arts are from four tribal groups, drawing artistic inspiration from their identity, connection to their totems through traditional and contemporary stories about their land, sea and family connections.

Erub Arts has always prided itself in producing work that is the product of research and investigation. These works fall largely into three categories; cultural, religious and conservation & environmental and are enriched by a process of collaboration with others in cross cultural exchanges. It is the religious aspect that instigated our time at SOAS.

Erub artists have an ongoing interest in tracing their family trees, their Pacific connections and the sea journeys that have brought the people of their island and the Torres Strait together. In 2011 Erub was visited by a group from the same theological college that Samuel MacFarlane [a missionary who served with the London Missionary Society, 1859-1887] had established in Lifou, New Caledonia, during the mid 19th century. The students from this college had been researching what happened to their forefathers who left with the missionaries to work in the Torres Strait from 1871. Erub Arts has returned twice to Lifou to reconnect with families and create artworks inspired by this connection. The last of these artworks has just been displayed at the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial at the Queensland Art Gallery.

Funding from the Australia Council, Arts Queensland and the Torres Strait Regional Authority enabled Erub Arts to travel from their tiny island to London for their ‘Caught in the Net’ project, which included research as well as an exhibition and workshops. While at SOAS Erub Arts was assisted by archivist Joanne Ichimura, to research the journals of Samuel MacFarlane of the London Missionary Society.

It was the arrival of Samuel MacFarlane and eight Kanak teachers from Lifou on Erub in 1871 that was the catalyst for change in the Torres Strait through the ready acceptance of these people and Christianity. The anniversary of this event is celebrated every year by Torres Strait Islander communities on July 1 and is known as the Coming of the Light.

Though daunted by the volume of records and limited time, researching MacFarlane’s original documents has provided an amazing beginning to the world of research and has opened the eyes of everyone who participated.

MacFarlane made several references about Darnley Island and we were fortunate to locate his journal recording the first visit in 1871.

Information learnt from our short time at SOAS will be shared with the community of Erub as we work towards creating new artwork to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Coming of the Light in 2021. Initial preparations have begun with a number of galleries and institutions supporting a series of exhibitions that will tell of this historic religious event, which is a little-known part of Queensland’s history.

Some of our artists were so inspired by what they read and the research experience, that they want to return to continue their search for information of their lost families.

If you have any further information please connect with us and make contact Diann Lui, manager, Erub Arts, email:

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About Special Collections, SOAS Library

Broadly speaking, our collections reflect the British interaction with Africa, Asia and the Middle East over the last 250 years, and include archives of missionary societies, NGOs and campaign groups, and business organisations, as well as papers of individuals, including diplomats, campaigners, and academics. If you have any questions, or comments, please get in touch! email: tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4180

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