The Tidal Rhythms of Māori Curating


Published in:
Online Review
21 September, 2017

There is currently an ethical crisis in contemporary art curating. The agency of the curator has long been a problem for contemporary art but due to the recent popularisation of curating, what it means to curate has invited increased scrutiny. The accusation is twofold: that the practice of curating has been reduced to an expression of personal taste and selection; and that the profession has become overrun by practitioners who prioritise their own career advancement and style of exhibition making over the art, the artist and the public. Not to mention a cunning ability of curators to sublimate critique by willingly discussing the contradictions of their practice.

At a two-day symposium run by City Gallery Wellington, a curatorial history was discussed that has creatively navigated these hotly contested issues. It is the history of curating contemporary Māori art and when considered as a continuum of energy stretching across a vast trajectory of time it yields a rich spectrum of innovative practices and no shortage of sincere debate.

Originally titled 50 years of Curating Contemporary Māori Art, the symposium was set to take place on the 8-9 December 2016 but was rescheduled two days after the 7.8 Kaikoura earthquake hit on 14 November 2016. However, a more modest ‘workshop model’ event did take place at the City Gallery on the originally planned date in 2016 and it gave the opportunity for a hot discussion to emerge-about what constitutes Māori art, who should curate it and what could it mean for this discussion to take place at a ‘mainstream’ art institution rather than a marae or a regional gallery. This debate was enriched with the presence of a delegation of indigenous practitioners from around Aotearoa and visiting from Australia and Canada who had attended an event the day before: If we never met—A wānanga on curating indigenous art run by Pātaka Art + Museum and held at Takapūwāhia marae.

This critical energy seems to have been a productive challenge for the City Gallery and the Symposium Committee who, after yet another date change (rescheduled for June 2017 but then later moved to 8-9 September), delivered the symposium under the more apt title Tai Ahiahi /// Tai Awatea: Curating Contemporary Māori Art.