Meet the curator- Damian McDonald

Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum all rights reserved
Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum all rights reserved

Name
Damian McDonald

What is your specialty area?
My academic background is English literature, and I’m obsessed with guitars and rock music; however, my path to curator has been more one of Museum knowledge rather than specialist of a particular collection area. I have worked in several departments across the Museum, and as a curator, across several areas of the Museum’s collection: transport, communication, health and medicine, and Australian social history. I’ve become interested in every area I’ve researched.

How long have you been working at the Museum?
Seven years

What is your favourite object in the collection?
Ibanez ‘Iceman’ electric guitar. This guitar was used by Australian Indigenous group NoKTuRNL from Alice Springs. This particular model is from the late 1990s, though the ‘Iceman’ guitar design is originally from the mid 1970s.

Ibanez, though obviously a Spanish name, is a Japanese guitar maker. Hoshino Gakki bought the Spanish guitar company Salvador Ibanez in 1935, and began using the name Ibanez to break into the European and US markets in the 1950s. By the 1970s, Ibanez guitars were almost all copies of American Fender and Gibson guitars – the market leaders of electric guitars and basses. The copies were very good – in most cases equaling the original Fenders and Gibos in feel and performance. Artists began using and endorsing Ibanez guitars, and the American guitar makers got nervous. Following a lawsuit over Ibanez copying a Gibson headstock, Gakki began designing unique Ibanez guitars in the mid 1970s. One of these was the ‘Iceman’. The body shape is striking and unconventional, yet comfortable to play – rather like the iconic Gibson ‘Explorer’ – and several musicians have adopted the ‘Iceman’ as their signature axe: Paul Stanley from rock group Kiss, and Steve Miller, who used his ‘Iceman’ on the album ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ in the 1970s, and more recently System Of A Down guitarist Daron Malakian.

This guitar is an ‘Iceman’ ICJ100WZ, and was co-designed by J, guitarist of the metal band White Zombie in 1996. It features a tremolo system: something previous models did not.

This guitar shouts rock with its design, and is at the same time a serious instrument. The Ibanez story is also one that echoes that of so many rock groups: beginnings in copying or ‘covering’ the masters of their art, and then honing and creating something original and worthy of reputation.

What piece of research or exhibition are you most proud of in the Museum?
I guess the diversity of objects I’ve researched: from computer control systems that administered the New South Wales high power electricity grid, to boxes of sex education material and douches, to a polygraph, or ‘lie detector’.

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