It’s not about just putting ‘stuff’ on show

Recently the New Zealand Taxpayer’s Union criticised Councils, museums and art galleries for not showing more of their art collections. When they gathered their statistics, MTG had 3.3% of the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust art collection on display, which in the Union’s view was far too low. Of course the percentage fluctuates as we refresh our exhibitions (it is currently over 11%, largely due to the ‘Out of the Box’ exhibition), but regardless, this is a great opportunity to discuss how collections are accessed and displayed.

If you’ve visited the museum recently and seen the exhibition ‘Out of the Box,’ you’ll know what a floor-to-ceiling wall of paintings looks like (and if you haven’t, cut-out this column for free entry this weekend). While this exhibition is very popular, and one we’re proud of, I’d challenge you to imagine every wall of the museum looking that way, and how overwhelming it would be.

As with everything, there are different views from our audiences about styles of display they like. While most are enjoying the density of art in ‘Out of the Box,’ for some people even just one gallery of that is too much. One particular visitor’s feedback was that the gallery was overly crammed and they couldn’t focus on any one work. For this reason we have different styles of display throughout the building to appeal to a range of preferences.

Furthermore, ‘Out of the Box’ shows approximately 10% of the art collection, so we’d need nine more galleries of the same size to show all the artworks at once – not to mention the social history objects and taonga Maori. Rather than having enormous institutions with static displays, we share what we hold through rotating works on display, letting different items get their ‘moment in the sun’.

Simply displaying our collection is not the purpose of the museum: our role is to tell stories of Hawke’s Bay, sometimes intertwined with stories on a national or international scale. One current exhibition with a strong regional focus, ‘What We Make of It: Hawke’s Bay Sculpture’, features two pieces from the art collection along with works borrowed directly from artists.

This very relevant exhibition would feel incomplete if told solely through our own collection. Meanwhile the hugely popular Lalique exhibition was made up entirely from a private loan, again illustrating what a shame it would be to limit ourselves to only what we hold in the collection.

There’s also the responsibility of stewardship: if all the objects were permanently displayed, they’d deteriorate over time with the constant exposure to light. But the key point is that our job is not just to put ‘stuff’ on display, but rather to create considered exhibitions that tell compelling stories. One of our more recent exhibitions ‘A Glimpse of India’ provided an opportunity to bring items out from the collection which haven’t been seen for some time, in order to tell stories of India, it’s history, and people.

And what about those objects that are currently in storage? They don’t just sit gathering dust – they are accessed by researchers, borrowed by other institutions, visited by family members connected to the item or the donor, and they form the foundation for the development of our future displays and exhibitions.

It’s understandable to think we should just put everything on display, but ultimately that would be short-sighted and irresponsible. It would also be sad to go back to museums where everything was crammed on display and just sat there never changing (which is where dust gathers – not in storage). There’d be nothing new to come and see, no fresh displays, ideas or challenges. But again, balance is required: it is comforting to have some ‘favourites’ to visit and revisit (such as the earthquake exhibition), along with a series of temporary displays. As always, we’re interested to hear from our visitors and appreciate those who give us feedback.

CHANGING DISPLAYS: A Glimpse of India showcases objects from the collection

CHANGING DISPLAYS: A Glimpse of India showcases objects from the collection

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 21 January 2017

Everyone has important stories and view points to share

The last three weeks have been interesting across the country’s racial landscape and I’ve made some observations about the rhetoric floating through our local rag over this time.  We’ve articles about the naming of Blackhead Beach, or Te Pari-o-Mahu, the Sir Peter Leitch saga and a prolonged dialogue played out through the letters to the editor about Maori language and its use across mainstream media.

I actually thought we were getting past this point as a nation, yet these three topics in quick succession over three weeks is astounding.  Sir Peter Leitch should know better! And the comment by his adviser, Michelle Boag, Queen of PR comparing skin colour with coffee, was ill-advised in my opinion. I’ve never compared myself to coffee – but as a fairer Maori, if I had to describe myself in this way, I would choose cappuccino.  Not only that, one made with beans from Colombia, milk from Takapau, sprinkled with wild cinnamon from Papua New Guinea and an obligatory piece of chocolate made in Australia.  Really?  Time to grow up New Zealand.

Then there’s the language debate.  In all honesty, it still surprises me the volume of letters and texts regarding the use of Maori words, for and against.  It’s noticeable that none of these letters were written by Maori but it’s great to see people passionate about this subject.

Then came the insinuation that Maori people aren’t interested in Maori language so we should throw the baby out with the bath water – further insult to injury.  The reality is that language underpins any culture, it’s the most precious taonga we’ve inherited from our ancestors. It’s our responsibility to keep this taonga alive, to transmit our beliefs and practices to the next generation.  The ever increasing numbers of Pakeha enroling in Maori language classes shows it’s becoming just as important for Pakeha to engage with Maori language and culture – this should be welcomed and encouraged.

Why is this important to me right now?  The answer is simple: it’s our role as your regional museum to promote diversity, champion cultural inclusion and bridge cultural gaps through exhibiting our stories, art and objects from epochs and creeds of this region.

To support this view, I’ve been visiting old Pa (village) sites of Ngati Kahungunu.  These Pa are taonga in themselves, or more specifically, waahi taonga (treasured places).  Being at these sites opens my mind to how we, as Maori, need to take control of our history and tell our stories as we want them to be told.  Our stories are particularly important as the tourism industry continues to grow, and the expectation is that we’ll share these stories with our manuhiri (visitors).

The visit by the behemoth Ovation of the Seas provided the opportunity to engage with passengers who were welcomed by a Pipe Band, not only here, but at every port they had visited so far.  Now I’m not against pipe bands, I’ve even been in one myself, however there are only so many reinditions of Scotland the Brave that one can endure on a leisurely cruise, but to the point, this is not Scotland.  Where are our Kahungunu people and our famed Concert Parties?  It’s time to step up Kahungunu!  Make some noise and be proud. Next month, with Te Matatini, is a busy one for the tribe and we can only hope that it’ll provide the platform for us to continue being visible, accessible and proud after the throngs have gone home and Kahungunu Park returns to being plain old Hawke’s Bay Sports Park. Whether you’re a long black, a latte or a cappacino, at the museum we recognise that everyone has important stories, taonga and points of view to share.

 

WAAHI TAONGA: Hakikino Pa, Waimarama Photo Credit: HB Tourism with permission from Waimarama Maori Tours

WAAHI TAONGA: Hakikino Pa, Waimarama. Photo Credit: HB Tourism with permission from Waimarama Maori Tours.

 

Charles Ropitini – Maori Engagement Coordinator, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 14 December 2016