Artefacts can evoke feelings as well as memories

As momentum builds up for the Art Deco Festival in Napier it’s also appropriate to take time to remember the 85th Anniversary of the earthquake this week. Since taking up my role at MTG Hawke’s Bay I have, naturally, learnt much more about the earthquake that had such a devastating effect on this region. With 256 lives lost (although there is some debate about the final number), buildings destroyed, families turned upside down and the landscape forever altered – it’s not an event that the region could, or should, forget.

Those who have visited the museum over the last six months will have noticed that many of the galleries in the building have been changed and updated. And the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake gallery has not been forgotten. The film Survivors’ Stories is now set up in a dedicated theatre space next to the gallery so that everyone can have the opportunity to listen to this fascinating collection of personal recollections of the earthquake. We are currently undertaking research to ensure that Maori experiences are better represented and that the gallery tells the story of the entire Hawke’s Bay Region. Research takes time and making changes to permanent galleries requires planning and resourcing so it will be a while before these changes take effect but they will come.

Whilst our visitors love this gallery and the Survivors’ Stories film has been incredibly popular we have also received feedback from some visitors that the gallery is too dark and the labels are hard to read. So, revisiting the exhibition will give us the opportunity to rectify these matters as well. It is such a big story and such an important one that we want to ensure we get it right.

One of the cases in the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake gallery which I find particularly touching is the case of jewellery that was never claimed from bank vaults. Jewellery is so personal that it is hard to image they would be abandoned and we can only wonder what happened to their owner(s). Of course different stories in the gallery affect different people in different ways.

Museums hold the collective memories and treasures of a community. We are lucky, and grateful, that so many give their objects to us and other museums around the country and the world. These items then allow us to tell the stories of the region to locals and visitors and to showcase the rich history of Hawke’s Bay and New Zealand. Some of these are sombre stories such as the earthquake and the First World War, others are happier such as the rebirthing of a city and region. Some are challenging and thought-provoking, while others are inspiring or uplifting. The objects and artworks we hold along with these their stories provide a cultural and social glue for any society.

Laura Vodanovich – Director at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 30 January 2016.

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