Virtual Reconnections

Indigenous objects speak back


  • Chiara Minestrelli London College of Communication
  • Mau Power
  • Alim Kamara
  • Despoina Zachariadou



The emergence of computer-generated technologies and their increasing affordability has been welcomed with enthusiasm and it is now reaching maturity across different sectors, from the scientific and technological field to educational and recreational contexts. With an eye on its criticalities, this paper reflects on the ways in which VR can be used to engage with Indigenous artefacts and knowledges. Primarily, this work looks at VR as a symbolic and concrete space for the reconfiguration of Indigenous storytelling and the mapping of new cartographies. It does so by reflecting on the possibilities and limitations of a collaborative project that investigates the potential of VR to tell stories through objects (through the mobilisation of strong affective responses), transmit knowledge and educate. The project is a collaborative venture between the author, an Italian scholar based in London, a Greek scholar and VR artist based in London, a London-based Sierra Leonian artist and a Torres Strait Islander artist who resides in Australia. The identities of the people involved in the project are key to understanding VR as a space for dialogue, and a place to think about the situated and subjective practices which are embodied and embedded in the narrative and structure of the VR experience itself. Therefore, we have embraced Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s approach to decolonising methodologies, together with community-based participatory research as key frameworks to understanding intercultural collaboration, the handling of Indigenous knowledges, intellectual property, data sovereignty, and the digitisation of tangible and intangible Indigenous cultural heritage. Investigations into the uses of VR in maintaining cultural heritage and Indigenous cultural artefacts have been undertaken by some scholars (see Newell, for instance), but more research needs to be done to shed light on the complexities of working with these technologies in terms of access, sustainability and effective change. This paper thus looks at VR as a platform for Indigenous communities across cultures to think about sustainable futures as old and new challenges intervene in cultural maintenance, transmission and revitalisation. Within this context, spatial elements and trajectories of Indigenous artefacts that have been removed from their original place of use to travel to the heart of the Empire have been considered. Yet, while here we are not directly engaging with the role of museums and demands of repatriation, we nevertheless argue that ‘digital/virtual reconnections’ could be the first step towards encouraging the younger generations to engage and/or re-engage with aspects of culture that may feel distant. Moving beyond the concept of digital repatriation, the term ‘reconnections’ captures the possibilities of VR in terms of agency, maintenance, revival and reintegration of important cultural objects/knowledges. The Bondo Mask in Sierra Leone and the Turtle Shell mask in the Torres Strait Islands carry with them deep transcultural and cross-cultural meanings, practices and traditions that VR technologies and environments can help revive. Thus, this work sets out to further investigate if and how immersive virtual approaches to Indigenous cultures can strengthen a sense of community and pride in cultural identity while healing transgenerational fractures and reviving deep-seated traditions so as to move confidently towards the future. Through a series of critical ethnographic methods, two of the researchers have and will continue to carry out investigations and fieldwork within their communities of origin in an effort to gather direct testimonies and guidelines from Elders and community members to shape the project in ways that are meaningful and contextual.




How to Cite

Minestrelli, C., Mau, P. ., Kamara, A., & Zachariadou, D. (2024). Virtual Reconnections: Indigenous objects speak back. Transmotion, 9(1&2), 179–204.