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Abstract

In the uncertain early 2000s when violence between Muslims and Christians racked the Malukan islands on Indonesia's eastern edge, a handful of Protestant ministers waged an iconoclastic attack on a museum collection dedicated to Seram Island's ancestral headhunting culture and centred upon statues and portraits of mythical war captains. I track the heterogeneous sites and incidents that came together in the attack, including the animation of the museum's headhunter collection, as the past exceeded the ways in which it had been previously engaged and managed materially, existentially, and in its effects. Drawing on understandings of assemblage, archive, and cinematic animation, I explore the regime of secrecy and revelation that constituted the driving force behind the museum's continually expanding collection, was embedded in the complex of buildings and artifacts of which the museum forms a part, and entailed in its aesthetic and museographic practices. Taken together, they intimate how escalation, in this ethnographic example, was an always present potentiality – one that became disclosed when headhunting's secrets burst into the world with devastating consequences. What enabled these events, among other factors, was the materiality of the collection and the matter of scale or, more precisely, the visibility of scale such that it is deemed capable of attracting the gaze – directing attention within the spiralling inter-religious violence and turmoil to the headhunter statues and portraits of the museum, triggering a ‘crisis of faith' in its director, and leaving torn canvases and broken statues in its wake.

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