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Meanings make stolen medals irreplaceable

Meanings make stolen medals irreplaceable

Reaction to the theft of medals from the Waiouru museum has been dramatic because of their power as symbols of sacrifice and service, says a cultural researcher.

Associate Professor at Massey’s School of Visual and Material Culture, Tony Whincup calls the medals “mnemonic objects”.

“The medals are valuable because of the special meanings we attach to them. They symbolise outstanding military acts, but also our sense of who we are as New Zealanders.”

Professor Whincup says personal objects help define us, both as individuals and as a community.

“If my stereo gets stolen, I can easily replace it. But if I lost my wedding ring I would be devastated because of the memories I attach to it.”

“In the same way the loss of these medals diminishes us as a nation because we are defined by our heritage, which includes notions of bravery, sacrifice and service.”

“It’s a reciprocal arrangement, because we choose which parts of our heritage are most important to us.”

War memorial specialist and senior lecturer at the School, Kingsley Baird, asks why we are so devastated over what could be seen as objects made of cheap metal and ribbons?

“It’s because these medals are about the maintenance of memories. If we value them as objects, let’s look after them,” he says.

The School of Visual and Material Culture, part of the College of Creative Arts, is a centre of teaching and research excellence that seeks to develop new perspectives between people and things in the images and objects that shape everyday life.


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