The Challenge of the Xingu: indigenous cultures in the museum of the future.

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Drama


Technologies for preventative conservation are assuming an increasingly significant role in the management and protection of cultural heritage. With the incorporation of Motion-Capture and Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality technologies alongside methods already in use, these conservation practices have the potential to reach far beyond the accurate reproduction in 2D/3D facsimiles of monuments, artefacts and landscapes, offering new approaches that may enable museums, galleries and content developers in other creative industries to engage with, learn from and disseminate traditional, intense, live immersive cultural practices from around the world.

This potential for non-contact technologies to allow cultural heritage to be shared, experienced and understood is applicable to cultures across the world but this research proposes that it has a particular significance in the case of small, remote and fragile indigenous communities whose way of life is beyond the reach of the general public, whose survival depends on international awareness of their existence and significance, but who would be put at risk of destruction via the environmental and cultural impacts of intensive non-indigenous human contact.

This project will bring together a UK and Brazilian research team comprising: a lead researcher in applied performance practice; artists and community leaders from one of Brazil's remaining indigenous communities; curators and education practitioners from one of the UK's most popular museums, which has anthropology and object-handling collections of recognised importance and is developing a new 'World Gallery'; a Rio de Janeiro-based SME founded by a creative coder and devArtist working in immersive technologies; a world-leading European team of artists, technicians and conservators dedicated to digital mediation in fine art and archaeology contexts; one of Brazil's most sought-after designers in the worlds of architecture, graphic design, exhibitions and theatrical staging; and a writer from a leading UK producer of film, television and theatre, together with a distinguished researcher of the creative economy who will advise on the market transformations taking place, and the kinds of cultural value being established, as the creative economy becomes increasingly digitised.

It aims to combine the digital data capture associated with world-leading cultural conservation practice (such as photogrammetry and 3D scanning/printing) with motion-capture, VR/AR tools such as Oculus Rift headsets and Manus gloves, and traditional Kuikuro objects and artefacts, to prototype an intense immersive experience for UK museum audiences of the day to day life, environment, myths and storytelling, dance, graphism, decorative painting, crafts and other cultural practices of an indigenous Brazilian village in the Upper Xingu region.

The research team will share their work at the end of this nine month developmental project, aiming to change attitudes to digital work within the heritage and conservation sectors and to point to possible development routes that will enable museums and galleries to discover new and increasingly engaging ways to allow sites, artefacts and distant peoples to tell their stories for wider audiences.

Planned Impact

In addition to the academic benefits outlined above, this research project will offer direct benefits to all of the partners engaged in the developmental prototyping, and indicate potentials for future impact in the wider sectors within which they operate.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens, South London, and the museums/archive and heritage sector more broadly will benefit from experimentation and prototyping of VR/AR/MR that opens up rich new understandings of anthropology and object-based collections for the public through immersive experiences of cultural practices, daily life, landscape and artefacts. This is of particular relevance given the Museum's recent announcement that it is developing a 'World Gallery', which will occupy half of its footprint as a showcase of the way people from every continent live their lives and of 'what it means to be human' and will present 3,000 objects from its collection.

WeSense, Factum Arte/Factum Foundation and Playground Entertainment will benefit from the interdisciplinary experimentation and learning that takes place during the project and from the creation of a prototype which may signal future directions of technological development with potential for commercial application (particularly for WeSense and Factum Arte).

The Kuikuro community of the Ipatse village, Xingu indigenous territory, Mato Grosso State, Brazil will benefit from the opportunity to disseminate their cultural practices to a very large potential audience [Horniman Museum & Gardens annual visitor total: over 900,000] while remaining in control of the environmental and cultural impacts of this contact. The Kuikuro people will benefit from increased public understanding of their culture, which they hope will act as an advocacy tool and increase international public pressure on the Brazilian government to protect indigenous rights including territorial rights; from the opportunity to learn to operate new equipment and technologies with which they can document their practices for future generations and for fellow indigenous communities; and from the opportunity for exchange with other artists. Properly rewarded training and employment opportunities for individuals are also built in to the bid which, together with an appropriate donation to AIKAX the Indigenous Kuikuro Association, will assist the village in developing and maintaining some elements of healthcare infrastructure (generator to run the medical centre fridge to keep vaccines and antibiotics chilled, etc).

The general public will benefit from the rich understandings gained from immersive experiences of other cultures. This public will initially be largely in the UK, with the potential for wider future applications to bring increased benefits for further audiences and cultural communities.


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