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


Precious Poutokomanawa (carving) Out On Loan

Two weeks ago an important poutokomanawa (carving), titled Te Waaka Perohuka was taken to Gisborne on loan for an exhibition, Ko Rongowhakaata, at Tairawhiti Museum. This Poutokomanawa, carved in the 1860’s, was originally intended for Te Hapuku’s wharenui (house) Kahuranaki I.  On completion, the pou was considered too precious to leave Manutuke and was held back by Chief Otene Pitau.  Te Waaka Perohuka was later gifted to Greacon Black, a Scottish collector of taonga, who settled in Gisborne.

Black amassed a significant taonga collection and on his passing it was handed down to his son, Robert, who wanted to find a home for the collection in perpetuity.  Approaches were made to the Gisborne Council to erect a facility at Manutuke to house the collection, however this never eventuated.

Leo Bestall, founding director of our museum, was an acquaintance of Robert Black and in 1937 Leo negotiated having the collection come to Napier, where it is now part of the Ruawharo Ta-u-rangi (Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust) collection.

Returning this Pou to Rongowhakaata was a significant journey in my second week at the museum. Confirming the special effect taonga play in our lives.  This particular hui provided a rare opportunity for oratory to come to the fore, as stories of Te Waaka Perohuka the Chief were recounted, stories of the pou reaffirmed, and strong connections made between museums, iwi, and descendants of Te Waaka Perohuka and Greacon Black.

So Te Waaka Perohuka returns to serve his people as poutokomanawa do:  the one serves the many and the many serve the one.  This is the value of taonga to Maori people in its raw essence, a uniting force that allows for the oral traditions of our people to be handed from generation to generation.  Our taonga are our tupuna (ancestors).

I’ve no doubt this journey will help shape my thoughts about how we approach our taonga collection.  Igniting a spark of realisation about the importance of our collection being accessible.  One thing is for sure, our stories need to be told.

I’m also reminded of the 30th anniversary of another returning, that of Te Maori, the famous exhibition that travelled the world and returned home.  By all accounts it was an enlightenment for Maori at the time.  It was our taonga that prompted an awakening and flurry of story-telling and engagement of young people with our culture across performing arts, carving, law, education and Te Reo Maori.

For the people at Rongowhakaata, Te Waaka Perohuka achieved the same effect.  So what would the result be if we continued being led by the inspiration of our taonga?  The emerging generation are at risk of being disconnected from whakapapa, from tikanga and ultimately from Te Reo Maori.  Technology is accelerating the disconnect – however, if harnessed, technology can be an avenue for accessibility to our taonga and subsequently the telling of our stories.

With attention diverted to treaty claims and other important subjects, I’m content for now to be within the calm wairua of our tupuna and I look forward to working with our community.

Thelma Karaitiana with Te Waaka Perohuka at Manutuke Marae.  Photo Credit: Pipi Wharauroa

Thelma Karaitiana with Te Waaka Perohuka at Manutuke Marae. Photo Credit: Pipi Wharauroa

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

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 10 December 2016


MTG Free Day

Today is our fourth Free Day in the last two years and we’re certainly hoping many of you will come and see what’s new. This Free Day is primarily to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, and to share our exhibition ‘A Glimpse of India’ and two Diwali-inspired art installations. Come in under the rainbow and bells of ‘The Colour of Light’, hanging outside the front of the museum, and experience the immersive ‘Indra’s Bow’ at the far end of the building. These three new additions have been the result of discussion with members of the local Indian community, and the perfect opportunity to acknowledge one of the many cultures that make up Hawke’s Bay.

It’s a lovely coincidence that the Diwali Festival is on the same day as the Santa Parade. In recognition of this, we have Santa in the building from 10am until midday for children to visit. There’s also an opportunity for a photo in front of Santa’s sleigh, which will be parked on the forecourt for the morning before it heads off to join the parade.

As usual we have a range of activities for children: they can try their hand at making a lantern, complete our activity trail, enter the colouring competition, or do any of the other activities spread throughout many of our galleries.

Exhibitions and Free Days are just two of the many ways we engage with our communities. Earlier this week we took two taonga, Te Riukāhika and Te Waaka Perohuka, to Manutūkē Marae in Gisborne. Iwi and descendants (both Māori and Pākehā) came together to share stories, knowledge and the history of these taonga – making new connections and reconnections. These taonga will be on display at Tairāwhiti Museum, Gisborne, from 17 December in the iwi-led exhibition ‘Ko Rongowhakaata’.

Also this week the Museum Foundation had a function, with guest speaker Roy Dunningham sharing very interesting history around the evolution of the collection at the museum. In conversation with artists Martin Poppelwell and Ben Pearce, Roy teased out some current views around collections in public institutions, the relationship between artists and galleries, and more. Our relationship with local artists and the Foundation, who help grow and develop the collection, are further examples of community ties we cherish.

This month, staff have started in three new roles that are all very much focused on relationships with our communities and visitors. As mentioned in a previous article, Sarah Stroud is our new Community Programmes and Events staff member. Sarah’s now joined by Kirsten Kelly, our Visitor Engagement Coordinator, who’ll be focused on deeper understanding of our communities and how we can better engage with them, alongside ensuring we consistently deliver excellent customer service. And Charles Ropitini has started in his Māori Engagement role which, as the title suggests, is focused on furthering our relationship with Māori communities, and developing ways to better meet their expectations where we can.

We have a strong desire to continue to develop our connections within Hawke’s Bay. Ultimately we want you to feel that this is truly your place and an institution you’re proud to have as your regional museum.

photorapher David Frost

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 26 November 2016

Gender roles not always so defined – and divisive

A wonderful part of working in a museum is the big-picture focus on culture: whether it’s looking at how a culture changes over time, or thinking about the similarities and differences between cultures in New Zealand and around the world. What I love about this is the reflect it leads to on my own culture, particularly in realising how many aspects of daily life, that seem immutable, are actually in flux.

Take gender, for example. From the way clothes are marketed and presented in shops, it’s clear that general Western society recognises two genders: one that can wear dresses, and one that most certainly should not.

And yet, looking in the museum collection, there’s a portrait painted in 1830 of a little English boy named William James Patterson, wearing a dress. The actual dress is also held in the collection. It’s a very cute wee number with blue-and-white striped fabric, puffed sleeves and a belt around the waist. You might find something similar in a store today, but it certainly wouldn’t be marketed as something for boys. In fact, parents who dared to publically dress their son in this would likely face confusion at best, criticism and vitriol at worst.

This illustrates how our standards of masculinity and femininity change over time. A more enduring part of the Western understanding of gender, however, is the binary model. In this model there are only two body types, fixed to two distinct gender identities. This has been considered an unquestionable fact of nature for centuries, despite the often extensive measures taken to enforce it.

For example an Evening Post newspaper of 1932 features the headline “Dressed as a woman: young man arrested – to be medically examined.” The person concerned was arrested in Auckland and charged with being an “idle and disorderly person,” due to dressing in a manner that transgressed the social rules of gender. Of course, if the binary model was a simple fact of nature, everyone would happily be in accordance and there would be no need for such arrests.

In New Zealand today, you won’t be arrested for your choices of masculine or feminine appearance, but unfortunately there is still the risk of violence from members of the public. Just last month, Blenheim man Kent Morgan was assaulted and called a homophobic insult for simply wearing a pink shirt while walking home from work. This violence can be experienced by anyone – Morgan happens to be cisgender and married to a woman – but it is most often directed at those who are gender diverse (particularly those who express themselves in a feminine way).

Tomorrow is Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual day held to memorialise those who have been attacked or murdered as a result of transphobia. I hope there’ll soon be no need for such a day, when people are free to exist and express themselves fully without fear of retribution.

Violence enforcing the gender binary model also comes in the guise of medicine, with cosmetic surgeries still routinely performed on intersex babies in New Zealand, and internationally. These operations are carried out to enable well-intended doctors and parents to fit babies in either the ‘male’ or ‘female’ box. Medically unnecessary, these operations have been shown to be incredibly harmful to the wellbeing of intersex people throughout their lives.

Last month the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the NZ government to protect intersex children by upholding their bodily integrity. The option of surgery is to be made available to the child only when they reach the age of 16 and can give informed consent. These protections cannot be introduced soon enough, as part of a wider movement to ensure those who, in any way, transcend the binary gender model are treated with the same respect and dignity as anyone else.

Jessica Mio – Art Curator, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 19 November 2016




A Glimpse of India

Last night we opened our newest display space, the Heynes Gallery, which was converted from an old office next to the Octagon. This was something we’d wanted to do for a long time and was made possible by a generous bequest from Mr Leslie George Heynes. As a small gallery space, it’s ideal for showing smaller items from our collection, such as jewellery, as well as concise collections that we hold from cultures around the world.

Our opening exhibition A Glimpse of India provided an opportunity to bring our collection of Indian items out from storage. The display spreads across the new Heynes Gallery and throughout the Octagon. These objects were originally bought as tourist souvenirs by individual collectors during the time of British rule – providing a colonial view of life in India. These range from miniature paintings and figurines, through to textiles and ceramics.

To complement this exhibition, contemporary artist Tiffany Singh was invited to create an art installation in the adjacent Chambers Gallery. Tiffany collaborated with local artist, Jo Blogg, to create Indra’s Bow. This artwork focuses on the spirituality of Diwali: the Hindu festival of lights, utilising the rainbow as inspiration. Diwali signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. Glass vessels filled with spices and other materials were used to create a rainbow arc hanging from the gallery ceiling.

An intricate mandala covering the entire floor sits underneath, made up of plain and coloured rice, along with beeswax figures and forms. In creating this mandala, the pattern was first marked out on the floor and then each different colour of rice was carefully poured and laid in place. Rice is a ritual offering to the goddess Lakshmi, often associated with Diwali, and provides a strong connection to women and fertility. Indra’s Bow is a masterpiece of meticulous planning, design and execution, creating a stunning and immersive artwork.

Outside the museum another work by Tiffany, The Colours of Light, continues the rainbow motif. Celebrating the spectral colours of light, hundreds of colourful ribbons hang from wires strung across the forecourt. Tied to the ribbons are handmade bells providing gentle music as the ribbons are caught in the breeze. The bells were made in Kutch, a district of Gujarat in India, and their rich tone reflects the mastery of the maker. This component of the work reflects Tiffany’s interest in fair trade and supporting artisan communities. We’re pleased that engaging Tiffany has contributed to this worthwhile endeavour. As is the case with the permanent public artwork Pin Wall, having art on the outside of the building not only adds colour and life, but also invites the community to engage with the museum both without and within.

There’s a not-to-be-missed opportunity to hear from Tiffany today at 11am. She’ll be talking about her art practice, her interest in fair trade and social justice, along with the inspiration for the two artworks at the museum.

Together with A Glimpse of India these two art installations provide a richness of colour, scent and sound throughout the building.

Rosebuds in hanging glass vessels, forming part of Indra’s Bow

Rosebuds in hanging glass vessels, forming part of Indra’s Bow . Photographer David Frost.


Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 29 October 2016

  • Lecturer Duncan Campbell talk on the History of China, Saturday 5 November 10:30am at MTG. Free event.
  • Guided tour of Osmanthus Gardens, Cornwall Park, Hastings, with lecturer Duncan Campbell, Saturday 5 November 2:30pm. Free event but numbers are limited – please book through MTG.
  • Saturday 5 November, FAWC! Master Class series, Tickets available through eventfinda. $10 per session

Excitement surrounds opening of new exhibition

Last week I wrote about the continuing nature of change and, having just opened a new exhibition, change continues. It was with sadness that we farewelled the beautiful Lalique exhibition and with excitement we welcomed in What We Make of It: Hawke’s Bay Sculpture which opened last night.

This exhibition features a number of artists living in, and with connections to, Hawke’s Bay. Being a collective show there is incredible diversity in the forms, styles and messages throughout the exhibition. Inevitably a number of themes have emerged, including the prevalence of industrial materials used to create pieces within the display. These include solid large-scale works, such as the powerfully-formed shark titled ‘Shadow’ by Ben Foster. But ‘Cone, Cylinder and Sphere’ by Neil Dawson presents a more delicate style – hanging from the foyer ceiling these three steel works appear light and ethereal.

Nature and environmental issues can be found throughout the exhibition. ‘For Mana and Mokotuararo’ by Chris Bryant-Toi speaks directly to the harm happening in our natural environment, by utilising debris found on the foreshore within his work. Meanwhile Marion Courtillé’s group of three works expresses hope and faith in the strength of nature to outlast such maltreatment, with organic forms springing up from expertly crafted leather contours that recall arid landscapes.

There are social messages, with Louise Purvis’ work ‘Stepped Construction’ referencing homelessness, the goal and challenge of home ownership, followed by the heavy weight and ‘prison’ of a hefty mortgage. ‘Koha to Hōhā’ by Israel Tangaroa Birch is a response to government regulations that restrict Māori customary fishing rights (and is made out of chocolate fish).

Spiritual guardians are present with siblings Jacob and Ema Scott, who’ve both created works that draw upon their connection to tipuna and kaitiaki through very different mediums and styles.

There are other artists, styles and themes throughout this eclectic exhibition which fills the Nelson gallery, spreading across the landing, over the balcony and down to the foyer below. A number of works transfer across several themes, providing a variety of interesting ways to engage with this display.

Planning for this exhibition began when Jessica Mio, Art Curator, arrived here and noted the strong presence of sculptors and makers in Hawke’s Bay. This exhibition’s the product of Jess’ journey of exploration within the art community here and gives a frame of reference to the larger body of artists and work within the region.

Later this month, another sculptural work will open to the public: Indra’s Bow, an art installation to coincide with an exhibition featuring the museums’ holdings of Indian objects and artworks. This work is the product of collaboration between Auckland-based artist Tiffany Singh and Jo Blogg of Hawke’s Bay. Once opened, ‘Indra’s Bow’, coupled with What We Make Of It, will add colour, drama and aroma through the galleries.

What We Make Of It includes works to challenge the viewer, works which are light and comical, and others which provide poignant memories and strong references to family and childhood. We’re delighted to be able to present this small portion of the extensive talent within the region to the community.

A few of the works on display in What We Make Of It

A few of the works on display in What We Make Of It

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 15 October 2016