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Ep.1 Pūkana a curator’s tale

July 22nd, 2020 By Paul Diamond
Listen to a conversation with Paul Diamond one of the curators of the Pūkana exhibition. We talk about developing the exhibition, what he learnt about curating exhibitions and the joy of working in a team.

Pūkana a curator’s tale

From Porgy and Bess to haka, to Elsdon Best and Tuini Ngāwai, the Pūkana exhibition ranges far and wide to give a sense of the ihi, wehi and wana, inherent to Māori performance.

  • Transcript

    Speakers

    Mary Hay, Sean McMahon, Paul Diamond

    Mary Hay: Kia ora and welcome to the Library Loudhailer, the monthly podcast of the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa. My name is Mary Hay, and together with Seán McMahon we'll be sharing some of the unique voices and stories from our library staff and collections. Today we're talking to Paul Diamond, one of the curators of Pūkana exhibition on now at the National Library, and running until 23rd of May, 2020.

    Seán McMahon: Kia ora, Paul. You have a very intriguing title for this exhibition, Pūkana: Te Ihi, Te Wehi, Te Wana, Moments in Māori Performance. Can you elaborate a little further on what Pūkana means?

    Paul Diamond: What Pūkana is, is an element of Māori performance and that's where the performers eyes look down and sideways, but the head stays stationary. And it's sort of a really unusual feature of Māori performance, and so we thought that would be a great way into this idea of celebrating Māori performance, going from that original brief from Chris Szekely.

    One of the challenges with the exhibition was it's potentially so broad. And as soon as people knew we were thinking about this, they said, oh what about Mark Williams? What about Billy T James? What about all these people, George Henare? And how would we sort of encompass the story of Māori showbands, the Māori involved in opera, all of these different art forms. But then I thought, well, moments is kind of a way of doing that because if we're telling a story about moments in Māori performance, but we're not sort of trying to tell the story of every moment.

    Really, the origin of the idea for the exhibition came from my boss Chris Szekely who is the chief librarian at the Turnbull Library. And I was actually away from the library studying in Germany. And he emailed me in May 2018 and asked about if I'd be interested in being involved in the curation for this exhibition idea that he had, which was-- his initial idea was to draw on photographic collections in the library and to focus on Māori achievement and performance.

    And he was also interested in te reo Māori coming through as a theme in that. And then it sort of grew from there. It was sort of adopted as an idea of one of these two exhibitions marking the centenary of Alexander Turnbull Library.

    Seán McMahon: One of the things I find most striking when I go into the exhibition space is the karetao that you have there in a large encased box. And I know they have come from Te Papa on loan, especially for this. And it's the collection that strikes you straight away when you walk in. And I know that's part of your theme on the Hei tīmitanga origin stories. And I'd like to ask a bit more about that because I know in your catalog and your captions, you've talked about them as being the wooden toys maybe or wooden sort of artifacts that had been regarded that way by some people.

    But they have other functions than that. And when I looked at them closely they are a wooden carving, exquisitely carved, full face moko and the arms move on strings. And looking at them, they look so much more spiritual than a toy, and you said they can be used for spiritual matters, for instruction sometimes. And I was wondering if you could just elaborate more on that? Because it's very powerful.

    Paul Diamond: When we were researching the exhibition, quite early on, and when I knew I was working with Ariana and Vicki-Anne. Vicki-Anne said, ‘What about karetao?’ And I didn't even know what they were. I knew vaguely that they were puppets. They sort of get translated as puppets. And there was one karetao that Vicki-Anne knew of from when worked at Te Papa.

    And it's one that we have ended up loaning. And it was from a collection called the Oldman Collection that this collector in England put together. And then the New Zealand government bought it in the 1940s. So practically nothing's known about that one. It's a very striking figure. But when we went to see that at Te Papa, we asked if we could see all of their karetao. And they've got one that was made for Alexander Turnbull, and that's the other one that we've got in the exhibition.

    And that was really interesting because this is an exhibition about the centenary of Turnbull's bequest to the country. So it was a chance to sort of acknowledge that story as well. And Alexander Turnbull commissioned that via Elsdon Best who had done a lot of work and was living in the Tūhoe area. And the karetao actually has on the back of it, Ruatahuna, where Best was living.

    And we've got the correspondence from Turnbull to Best asking him to make — ask the natives — as he calls them, to make the selection of Māori things and there's a karetao for 10 shillings.

    So once we started looking at these, we realized that they linked into one of these foundational stories for Māori, but that have performance at the heart of it. And in a nutshell, it's about a group of women who set off to identify someone who'd killed the pet whale that belonged to their chief. And the woman didn't know what the man looked like, but they knew he had a double tooth. And if they performed, they could get him to smile.

    So they did all of these different things waiata, haka, they played taonga pūoro, and they used karetao. So there's multiple reasons why we were interested in these because this, apparently this group of women is the first kapa haka team ever, that's that old. And there are versions of this story all through the Pacific, it's not just a Māori story so that shows how old it is.

    And people have asked me like, well, were these karetao based on, European marionettes or puppets? Possibly not because if they feature in these stories that are unbelievably old, and they specifically talk about karetao, there's quite a lot of detail about the particular songs that we use with them. So Elsdon Best the reason it's interesting that he's connected with Turnbull's karetao, is that Elsdon Best t is what people rely on for the ideas of Māori culture and history.

    So in one of his books, he talks about these as being child's toys, which is kind of part of the story. But we kept hearing about and reading about other meanings of these. And they can be used for instruction like for a haka, which was interesting to us because we thought all this is for an expression about performance. But there's also this idea of them embodying an ancestor, a person. And there's all sorts of reasons why you might want to do that, good and bad reasons.

    So they have a certain kind of power. And to be honest, initially I was a little bit wary of working with them because I felt a little bit out of my depth. Over time, that's what is good about having a long time period to build up to an exhibition, is that I was able to get a bit more comfort about it.

    And we have really good support from our collection care people, and we've got a brilliant registrar here, Amy Cosgrove, who used to work at Te Papa.

    And she brokered the whole process with Te Papa which is,it's just like when we loan things, it's quite a process.

    There's all sorts of things that have to be worked out. And actually, a beautiful moment was when we went to the Te Papa stores, this was the second time I saw the karetao and this was to meet with the curator, it was to meet with their registrar, their mount maker, and their collection manager.

    And I thought, and then there was also input from the conservators. I was like, do all of these people really need to be here? But actually, we did because it was about making it tika and safe actually as a process in terms of respect for these taonga.

    And the beautiful job the mount maker has done at Te Papa. So that was all stuff I'd never done before. But that's a bit of a background to why they're there and how they came to be there.

    Mary Hay: We talked earlier about creating an exhibition, you talked about-- it's about creating an argument or having a big idea. And I wondered if you could talk to us a little bit about what the argument or the big idea is at the core of this exhibition.

    Paul Diamond: Well, when I've had to think about the other expressions that I've done there was a quote that caught my eye from Nicholas Serota who used to be the director of the Tate Gallery in London. And he said, ‘museums should offer a series of arguments rather than simply a collection of pictures,’ and I guess that's that idea of tension, that there's some sort of conflict, I guess, between, and it's very deliberate why you've chosen to place things together.

    One of the, well, it wasn't cups of tea. Actually, it was Pilsner sessions with some curatorial colleagues at another institution in town because I wanted to rack their brains. And they're both very highly regarded curators. And one said to me, ‘well, what's the proposition and what's at stake?’

    And when we thought about what's at stake, well, actually the exhibiting function in this library is at stake because you always have to make a case for it because we're research these collections and we share them with the world through research, and we share them online.

    But I would argue that it's important that we share them through exhibition as well. So that's what I was doing.

    I think one of the other arguments is, I mean, I wanted to challenge people's ideas about performance. And you see I got challenged, by Ariana about the way I was thinking about haka. And I really appreciated that because it really did make me stop and ask, well, hang on, what are the other ways you can see these collections?

    But one of the big arguments in this exhibition is that performance always has a purpose. It can seem a bit random and fun, but even in the fun entertainment whakamaho performances, there's a sort of a purpose, there will be a purpose. So it might be grieving, a response to grief, something horrendous that's happened, or it might be to seduce someone, it might be to get back at someone. It's always got a purpose. I don't know maybe that's obvious, but I think it's different to the way performance works in say the Pākehā world.

    So that's a bit about some of the underlying arguments

    Mary Hay: Yeah, I really like that.

    Seán McMahon: So you mentioned the Pākehā world there. So do you have a ideal audience for the exhibition?

    Paul Diamond: Everybody who puts on an exhibition I think says-- oh, it's for everybody.

    Mary Hay: No.

    Paul Diamond: But really, again the other part of the brief from the boss was that this have particular appeal to young Māori, 15 to 35, which was a real challenge for someone who has just turned 50 at that time, which is me. But also, we didn't want to alienate our traditional audiences, who are really valuable and are the backbone of the way this library works. So it was how to bring that group in, and I'm interested in trying to change the culture of this place so that that group keep coming here because the people who are coming to us all the time, it didn't happen by magic. It didn't sort of come out of the sky.

    They were brought here as kids, they kind of developed that habit of the Turnbull Library being a place that you went to for things that were important to you. So we had kids from my old school, Taita College have helped us with the this exhibition.

    They performed at the airport to promote the exhibition. They performed at the opening. They performed here a lot. I'm hopeful they will be able to come and use us. Actually, they don't even if they visit us to use us, they can use us online.

    But that they become habitual familiar users of the library. So I guess I have sort of been influenced by that brief. And it can come down to the people that you see because if you don't see people like you in these places, well, then you might think, oh, maybe this place isn't for me.

    When Selina Tusitala Marsh, who's just finished her term as the Poet Laureate, in Taita College were here supporting that as well I think someone from another group said that when they were first asked to do something with her, they really didn't feel like it was their space, but then she gave them the confidence to do that. And I guess it's important to have role models.

    And I guess the three of us this are that we show that this is a place you might want to work or this is-- there are all sorts of people in these places.

    Mary Hay: You are here, you're represented here.

    Paul Diamond: So as I say, it's a bit of a stretch when you as old as I am to try and understand where 15 to 35-year-olds are at. Which why it was good, Ariana's a parent as well. So occasionally we'd have our little test audience and she'd get her kids to look at text or ideas that we had.

    But I think that's a key thing. I think it's about sort of growing the audience that come to the library.

    Seán McMahon: And certainly, Alien Weaponry is in the show. You've got a video of that band and they are very much in that demographic, but also shaking up thrash metal and how te reo be used in music.

    Paul Diamond: Well, Alien Weaponry are a fascinating phenomenon for the country. And the two brothers in that group came through the Māori language immersion system. They went to Kohanga and Kura Kaupapa Māori. Now I don't think we ever thought that the kids from there, we might have thought they'll go to Matatini and they'll do kapa haka. I don't think they ever thought they would do thrash metal and Māori, and have Danish audiences learning haka and answering them back.

    I think this is amazing for this country. It is great that it's that younger voice, but I think it's like one of those watershed moments like when the anthem was sung in Māori at Twickenham and people thought the sky was going to fall, but now we sing it and Māori first anyway, all of us do.

    I think it's a huge leap forward in terms of the profile of Māori performance in the world. And also, another idea in this exhibition is that that Māori performance represents New Zealand. And there's a woman called Marianne Schultz who I'd come across this when I was a researcher and she's done a really fantastic PhD, which became a book about Māori performance.

    And one of her arguments is that things like the haka, when the All Blacks do the haka, that represents New Zealand. And she's right, it's transcended, what do they call it? A posture dance.

    It is a symbol of New Zealand, like they korero on the Air New Zealand plane or the Kiwi. So that's the other interesting thing about performance and that's, but what these three young guys are doing is completely challenging the idea of what that is, that you can be Māori because you're singing in your own language. You're singing in the language of this country, but you're singing it in that form.

    And I'm probably the last person who be interestsed in in heavy metal, but when I started listening to the stuff I couldn't get over how clever it was. And it was so really, really good the way they use the English and Māori. Their videos are great.

    Mary Hay: There videos are great.

    Paul Diamond: So it wasn't too hard to include them as part of this. And it gave us a lovely endpoint. You've got that ancient legend from the beginning of time right through to this, which is happening at the moment.

    Seán McMahon: Fantastic. As you go through this show your themes have an area. And so for the visitors coming in they go through the show, they'll see one of your areas and on to the next. They're all quite discrete. They're all captioned. You've got the video in one room, where you can go on and hear the music and the interviews. You go right around, you end up with Ans Westra, the famous New Zealand documentary photographera at the end. You're left with these wonderful photographs from the 1963 from Ans. Whatatutu school in Gisborne. And the way Ans was shooting was on a medium format camera, which was shooting from the hip. So it was 12 shots per reel. And that you printed off the contact sheet. So you can see these 12 shots on the contacts sheets. You've got two of them, and then you've blown them up massively onto the wall. So you get this visual sensation of seeing the order she shot them but you also get this microscopic detail of what's in the photos.

    And I notice from that performance in the school that there are pois, there's a lot of poi going on, but also the singing. So one lad's got a broomstick with an Edmond's baking tin can, which is his mic. And then those drums, these little sort of old style, sort of tambourine type drums which they're beating on, and very animated.

    And she's captured going back to that te ihi, te wehi, te wana in that because everyone's performing and they're all kids. And you get that sense coming right back at you.

    Mary Hay: Yeah, so we get the sense. Yes, the whole experience.

    Paul Diamond: Well, that's the brilliance of Ans westra's photography is that she's got this amazing ability to capture that sense of vitality. And the this exhibition is driven by collections. And one of the collections we were aware of was Ans's collection of her negatives, which have been digitized, but still not really that well known. And when we looked through them we thought, well, there's quite a lot of images of performance in this collection because when Anssort of got herself into places where she could photograph Māori, often there was performance.

    And it kind of reinforced our idea that performance is sort of at the heart of Māori culture. You don't really have to look very hard in her collection to find examples. So we thought a way in to do that would be to look at two of the famous images of performance, which is one of woman doing kupe kupe at the coronation commemorations at Ngaruawahia, Turangawaewae marae, and the one you've mentioned, about the schoolchildren near Gisborne.

    So actually in that classroom, what I didn't know till I looked at the proof sheets was the kids on the left are doing poi, the girls are doing poi, but the boys have got their band with the Edmond's baking tin and the things on the right. So Ans is kind of moving between the two, but she zooms in on both those boys.

    But I just love the way Ans captures life, the vitality of life. Most of those images are from a 60 to 63, a very short period of time. But there's all that stuff going on, but that stuff's always going on. It's going on in a different way now and it's probably being captured on phones not cameras, but that's our mihi to her is just the most extraordinary beautiful collection that she was generous enough to donate here and that's just one example of the many, many, many donors who entrust us with their collections.

    Seán McMahon: You've given us a quote here from Ans when you were talking to her about the exhibition, which you've actually used in the caption, ‘I would love to see this exhibition dance make people smile. I feel that we need that just now. All that talent amongst Māori, let's celebrate.’ And that's what you feel at the end of this exhibition.

    Paul Diamond: Well, that's really gratifying. And I think Ans got what we were trying to do-- taking that original idea of Chris's to celebrate Māori performance. And Natalie Marshall, our photo curator, arranged for us to meet with Ans and her sister, Yvonne, who does the printing and the preparation of Ans's images. And David Alsop, her gallarist and we explained to Ans what we were trying to do and she just got it.

    And in fact, she didn't just get it. She actually gave us a spur, she inspired us because it was reassuring to think, yeah, I think we are on the right track here. There is something here. And yeah, so. It's really lazy really grabbing other people's quotes for your text, but I just thought it was a beautiful, beautiful quote, and she was really chuffed that we used it.

    Seán McMahon: So the themes, the 14 themes that have been developed from the overarching vision for the exhibition and how does that manifest itself through the selection of items?

    Paul Diamond: Well, it was a process. It was like a whanaga process. They talk about this being a form of how Māori discuss things. And that's where you get together and you, and part of the process is that people have a chance to contribute and give their feedback. And some of those sessions would be, for me you now, great moments for me in the development of this. It's the working alongside the two other curators, and also Peter Ireland (Gallery and Exhibitions Specialist), and also Neil Pardington (exhibtion designer) and others as well.

    And what happened with that was the distillation of the ideas into this, it's like a conceptual framework, really. And it made it much easy for us because really everything people would throw at us, we could say, well, that's where it kind of relates.

    And also, it gave us the chance to have the interconnections, which I think is another exciting thing. So things like the film, ‘Once were warriors’, for example, pop up right through the exhibition because we were aware it was a big anniversary of that.

    But rather than having you know a section looking at ‘Once were warriors’ you actually see the story and you see like the screenwriter Riwia Brown , whosesiblings were also involved in key Māori-- bits of the history of Māori performance.

    So it's not really a chronological structure and it's not really breaking performance into sort of types and things, it's actually a more integrated structure. And, yeah. It did take a process to get there, and that's the value of working with a team. And we worked really well together as a team because I think the fact that we all felt comfortable.

    And actually that meant comfortable about disagreeing. And the other two, and Peter and Neil, have very different ways of looking collections to me. But that was really valuable, I think, with where we ended up.

    Mary Hay: Is there, do you have a favorite theme in the exhibition?

    Paul Diamond: No. I guess ...

    Mary Hay: Like a favourite child?

    Paul Diamond No. I was just relieved we got them.

    Mary Hay: So I have a theme that I'm quite interested in, and it's the performance and grief theme. And then there's these three very powerful pictures hanging on the wall talking about performance and grief. And one of them is the photo of Nakisha Kingi and Azaria Thompson. And I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about that?

    Paul Diamond A thing that happened to us was that as part of our research process, the attacks and terrorist attacks in Christchurch happened, and that meant that the spotlight went on haka and the aftermath of that, and how those were performed by schoolchildren and others. And that made us think about performance in that context of grief.

    So you know tangihanga, which is a really amazing institution in the Māori world, has all sorts of elements of performance in it. So that, we'd already been thinking that we needed to acknowledge that, but this made it even more important but what was great about this was that we looked at the coverage. We looked at the things on YouTube, the clips of overseas media, the film footage of that. And Ariana's from Christchurch as well, so understands quite a lot of the context and then can point out things like that the haka that the kids were doing was the haka composed after Christchurch, the Christchurch earthquakes.

    So another experience of trauma being used to respond to a different experience of trauma. But what was interesting about this process of thinking about that image and how to tell the story of what happened in Christchurch in Pūkana was that it really illustrated another theme in the exhibition Mai i te ātea, the camera on the shore, which basically in a nutshell, is challenging ourselves to try and show the collections of the Turnbull from Māori perspectives because overwhelmingly the collections of the Turnbull are not collected by Māori.

    They're of Māori, but they're often other people observing what Māori are doing. So we had to write an article about the exhibition for the, ‘Off the record’. And I was keen to sort of angle it on, isn't it amazing how the BBC and The Guardian are saying about haka. And what started off as a war, aggressive sort of, what they called it a war dance, is now used to express unity and grief.
    And Ariana said, ‘Well, rather than doing that, what did those kids think about what they were doing and who were those kids?’ And so I said, ‘Well, you're from Christchurch, try and find out.’

    Mary Hay: (Laughter) Find out.

    Seán McMahon: Do the research.

    Paul Diamond: And we knew we could see their school uniforms, Burnside High and Christchurch Girls. So she activated her, she's a good social media person. And we found out here that it's Nakisha King and Azaria Thompson. And more importantly, from Ariana's point of view, was that they were OK about the photo being used.

    So that's another thing about processes. In a legal sense we just had to get approval from Associated Press. We paid a fee, but for Ariana there was a whole other ethical dimension to this that she wanted those girls to be comfortable.

    Seán McMahon: So can you tell us something about the team behind? You would have had to bring in a big team to be able to deal with all the design, project management, selection of items.

    Paul Diamond: I guess that it's a way I work and all the work I do at the library is collaborative, and I get a lot of inspiration and ideas from people. And when Chris suggested that there be a sort of a curatorial team, I was keen on that. And it ended up being me as lead curator and Ariana Tikao as another curator, and Vicki-Anne Heikell.

    And what's brilliant about that was that, I mean, it's a big exhibition, it's a big space. And I'd done exhibitions here before, but only in the small Turnbull gallery, which is a much smaller space. And the challenge there is almost you usually have too much for that space, whereas this was how we're going to tell the stories about Māori performance in this big space?

    Another reason why it was great working with those two is that Ariana has researched librarian Māori here. We started about the same time. But she's also a musician and she's a composer and a performer, and knows a lot about taonga puoro. And has amazing connections throughout the mighty performing world.

    And then Vicki-Anne Heikell runs the national preservation office in our outreach services section, but she's also a playwright and has great connections in Māori theater and other bits of, among Māori performers. And she's also got very clear ideas about how the Māori theater that we know now, where that sort of came from.

    So it was lovely working with those two. And then the other person who really was like a team member, it was Peter Ireland, who's our gallery specialist, who's been at the library since it opened in 1987.

    And the gallery was part of the library in a different place when the library opened, and he's been involved with every exhibition that we've had since then. And he's got an extraordinary experience. And also, he's had this experience of working with different curators, which I think gives him a lovely patience and empathy in helping people tell their stories. And at crucial moments he would say or do things, or make suggestions that were just absolutely crucial. So it was that team.

    And then Neil Pardington who's a designer came on board as well. But actually he came on board to help us as a project manager for the delivery of the exhibition and the gallery, which was really good for me because it meant that I could focus on the content and the curation. And like Peter, Neil's hugely experienced he's done lots of work with us and other places. And actually, working with him was like a lesson in why design matters and how design can help you tell the stories you want to tell.

    Seán McMahon: OK. So we going down towards the end of the show now, Paul. So we'd like to end this interview by literally giving you the opportunity to have the very last word.

    Paul Diamond: So if I had to select a word, it's a pretty simple, humble word. But it's a word I think that I always come back to in my work at the Turnbull Library and it's connecting, connections. And I think it's just part of the way I work. Whatever I'm doing, I'm always interested in the interconnections, for example, between the collections, but also between the staff and the number of times in our tea room I'll bump into Mary Hay or Emerson Vandy, or someone and get an idea for how what we're doing connects with what someone else is doing.

    And it is just the way I work and in the curation of Pūkana, there was a lot of information and inspiration, and ideas that came from other people. But it's also interesting to me to build the knowledge of the collections, so that you can make those connections. And that's what I think we've tried to do in Pūkana as well, but you know, connections and connecting.

    Seán McMahon: Well, that's it for this episode of the Library Loudhailer. Thanks again to Paul Diamond, for coming in and talking to us about Pūkana. And a shout out to our sound engineer, Jay Buzenberg and our producer, Aaron Wanoa, and to you most of all, our wonderful audience.

    Join us again next month for more audio stories from the Library.

    You can find details for each episode and the show notes available on the National Library website.

    Due to the global pandemic and recent national lockdown the Pūkana exhibition closing date has now been extended until the 30th of July, 2020. So if you're in Wellington, we hope you'll visit the National Library to see this wonderful exhibition for yourself. You can also hear Paul give a guided audio tour of the exhibition on our website under the heading Pūkana curators talk.

    To see us out, we have a very special live recording. This is the Taita college polygroup group performing ‘Kotiro Māori E’ from the opening ceremony of the Pūkana exhibition on the 16th of September, 2019.

    Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you next time. Ka kite ano.

    (Taita College performance — music playing)

    Any errors with the transcript, let us know and we'll fix them: digital-services@dia.govt.nz

  • Transcript

    Speakers

    Mary Hay, Sean McMahon, Paul Diamond

    Mary Hay: Kia ora and welcome to the Library Loudhailer, the monthly podcast of the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa. My name is Mary Hay, and together with Seán McMahon we'll be sharing some of the unique voices and stories from our library staff and collections. Today we're talking to Paul Diamond, one of the curators of Pūkana exhibition on now at the National Library, and running until 23rd of May, 2020.

    Seán McMahon: Kia ora, Paul. You have a very intriguing title for this exhibition, Pūkana: Te Ihi, Te Wehi, Te Wana, Moments in Māori Performance. Can you elaborate a little further on what Pūkana means?

    Paul Diamond: What Pūkana is, is an element of Māori performance and that's where the performers eyes look down and sideways, but the head stays stationary. And it's sort of a really unusual feature of Māori performance, and so we thought that would be a great way into this idea of celebrating Māori performance, going from that original brief from Chris Szekely.

    One of the challenges with the exhibition was it's potentially so broad. And as soon as people knew we were thinking about this, they said, oh what about Mark Williams? What about Billy T James? What about all these people, George Henare? And how would we sort of encompass the story of Māori showbands, the Māori involved in opera, all of these different art forms. But then I thought, well, moments is kind of a way of doing that because if we're telling a story about moments in Māori performance, but we're not sort of trying to tell the story of every moment.

    Really, the origin of the idea for the exhibition came from my boss Chris Szekely who is the chief librarian at the Turnbull Library. And I was actually away from the library studying in Germany. And he emailed me in May 2018 and asked about if I'd be interested in being involved in the curation for this exhibition idea that he had, which was-- his initial idea was to draw on photographic collections in the library and to focus on Māori achievement and performance.

    And he was also interested in te reo Māori coming through as a theme in that. And then it sort of grew from there. It was sort of adopted as an idea of one of these two exhibitions marking the centenary of Alexander Turnbull Library.

    Seán McMahon: One of the things I find most striking when I go into the exhibition space is the karetao that you have there in a large encased box. And I know they have come from Te Papa on loan, especially for this. And it's the collection that strikes you straight away when you walk in. And I know that's part of your theme on the Hei tīmitanga origin stories. And I'd like to ask a bit more about that because I know in your catalog and your captions, you've talked about them as being the wooden toys maybe or wooden sort of artifacts that had been regarded that way by some people.

    But they have other functions than that. And when I looked at them closely they are a wooden carving, exquisitely carved, full face moko and the arms move on strings. And looking at them, they look so much more spiritual than a toy, and you said they can be used for spiritual matters, for instruction sometimes. And I was wondering if you could just elaborate more on that? Because it's very powerful.

    Paul Diamond: When we were researching the exhibition, quite early on, and when I knew I was working with Ariana and Vicki-Anne. Vicki-Anne said, ‘What about karetao?’ And I didn't even know what they were. I knew vaguely that they were puppets. They sort of get translated as puppets. And there was one karetao that Vicki-Anne knew of from when worked at Te Papa.

    And it's one that we have ended up loaning. And it was from a collection called the Oldman Collection that this collector in England put together. And then the New Zealand government bought it in the 1940s. So practically nothing's known about that one. It's a very striking figure. But when we went to see that at Te Papa, we asked if we could see all of their karetao. And they've got one that was made for Alexander Turnbull, and that's the other one that we've got in the exhibition.

    And that was really interesting because this is an exhibition about the centenary of Turnbull's bequest to the country. So it was a chance to sort of acknowledge that story as well. And Alexander Turnbull commissioned that via Elsdon Best who had done a lot of work and was living in the Tūhoe area. And the karetao actually has on the back of it, Ruatahuna, where Best was living.

    And we've got the correspondence from Turnbull to Best asking him to make — ask the natives — as he calls them, to make the selection of Māori things and there's a karetao for 10 shillings.

    So once we started looking at these, we realized that they linked into one of these foundational stories for Māori, but that have performance at the heart of it. And in a nutshell, it's about a group of women who set off to identify someone who'd killed the pet whale that belonged to their chief. And the woman didn't know what the man looked like, but they knew he had a double tooth. And if they performed, they could get him to smile.

    So they did all of these different things waiata, haka, they played taonga pūoro, and they used karetao. So there's multiple reasons why we were interested in these because this, apparently this group of women is the first kapa haka team ever, that's that old. And there are versions of this story all through the Pacific, it's not just a Māori story so that shows how old it is.

    And people have asked me like, well, were these karetao based on, European marionettes or puppets? Possibly not because if they feature in these stories that are unbelievably old, and they specifically talk about karetao, there's quite a lot of detail about the particular songs that we use with them. So Elsdon Best the reason it's interesting that he's connected with Turnbull's karetao, is that Elsdon Best t is what people rely on for the ideas of Māori culture and history.

    So in one of his books, he talks about these as being child's toys, which is kind of part of the story. But we kept hearing about and reading about other meanings of these. And they can be used for instruction like for a haka, which was interesting to us because we thought all this is for an expression about performance. But there's also this idea of them embodying an ancestor, a person. And there's all sorts of reasons why you might want to do that, good and bad reasons.

    So they have a certain kind of power. And to be honest, initially I was a little bit wary of working with them because I felt a little bit out of my depth. Over time, that's what is good about having a long time period to build up to an exhibition, is that I was able to get a bit more comfort about it.

    And we have really good support from our collection care people, and we've got a brilliant registrar here, Amy Cosgrove, who used to work at Te Papa.

    And she brokered the whole process with Te Papa which is,it's just like when we loan things, it's quite a process.

    There's all sorts of things that have to be worked out. And actually, a beautiful moment was when we went to the Te Papa stores, this was the second time I saw the karetao and this was to meet with the curator, it was to meet with their registrar, their mount maker, and their collection manager.

    And I thought, and then there was also input from the conservators. I was like, do all of these people really need to be here? But actually, we did because it was about making it tika and safe actually as a process in terms of respect for these taonga.

    And the beautiful job the mount maker has done at Te Papa. So that was all stuff I'd never done before. But that's a bit of a background to why they're there and how they came to be there.

    Mary Hay: We talked earlier about creating an exhibition, you talked about-- it's about creating an argument or having a big idea. And I wondered if you could talk to us a little bit about what the argument or the big idea is at the core of this exhibition.

    Paul Diamond: Well, when I've had to think about the other expressions that I've done there was a quote that caught my eye from Nicholas Serota who used to be the director of the Tate Gallery in London. And he said, ‘museums should offer a series of arguments rather than simply a collection of pictures,’ and I guess that's that idea of tension, that there's some sort of conflict, I guess, between, and it's very deliberate why you've chosen to place things together.

    One of the, well, it wasn't cups of tea. Actually, it was Pilsner sessions with some curatorial colleagues at another institution in town because I wanted to rack their brains. And they're both very highly regarded curators. And one said to me, ‘well, what's the proposition and what's at stake?’

    And when we thought about what's at stake, well, actually the exhibiting function in this library is at stake because you always have to make a case for it because we're research these collections and we share them with the world through research, and we share them online.

    But I would argue that it's important that we share them through exhibition as well. So that's what I was doing.

    I think one of the other arguments is, I mean, I wanted to challenge people's ideas about performance. And you see I got challenged, by Ariana about the way I was thinking about haka. And I really appreciated that because it really did make me stop and ask, well, hang on, what are the other ways you can see these collections?

    But one of the big arguments in this exhibition is that performance always has a purpose. It can seem a bit random and fun, but even in the fun entertainment whakamaho performances, there's a sort of a purpose, there will be a purpose. So it might be grieving, a response to grief, something horrendous that's happened, or it might be to seduce someone, it might be to get back at someone. It's always got a purpose. I don't know maybe that's obvious, but I think it's different to the way performance works in say the Pākehā world.

    So that's a bit about some of the underlying arguments

    Mary Hay: Yeah, I really like that.

    Seán McMahon: So you mentioned the Pākehā world there. So do you have a ideal audience for the exhibition?

    Paul Diamond: Everybody who puts on an exhibition I think says-- oh, it's for everybody.

    Mary Hay: No.

    Paul Diamond: But really, again the other part of the brief from the boss was that this have particular appeal to young Māori, 15 to 35, which was a real challenge for someone who has just turned 50 at that time, which is me. But also, we didn't want to alienate our traditional audiences, who are really valuable and are the backbone of the way this library works. So it was how to bring that group in, and I'm interested in trying to change the culture of this place so that that group keep coming here because the people who are coming to us all the time, it didn't happen by magic. It didn't sort of come out of the sky.

    They were brought here as kids, they kind of developed that habit of the Turnbull Library being a place that you went to for things that were important to you. So we had kids from my old school, Taita College have helped us with the this exhibition.

    They performed at the airport to promote the exhibition. They performed at the opening. They performed here a lot. I'm hopeful they will be able to come and use us. Actually, they don't even if they visit us to use us, they can use us online.

    But that they become habitual familiar users of the library. So I guess I have sort of been influenced by that brief. And it can come down to the people that you see because if you don't see people like you in these places, well, then you might think, oh, maybe this place isn't for me.

    When Selina Tusitala Marsh, who's just finished her term as the Poet Laureate, in Taita College were here supporting that as well I think someone from another group said that when they were first asked to do something with her, they really didn't feel like it was their space, but then she gave them the confidence to do that. And I guess it's important to have role models.

    And I guess the three of us this are that we show that this is a place you might want to work or this is-- there are all sorts of people in these places.

    Mary Hay: You are here, you're represented here.

    Paul Diamond: So as I say, it's a bit of a stretch when you as old as I am to try and understand where 15 to 35-year-olds are at. Which why it was good, Ariana's a parent as well. So occasionally we'd have our little test audience and she'd get her kids to look at text or ideas that we had.

    But I think that's a key thing. I think it's about sort of growing the audience that come to the library.

    Seán McMahon: And certainly, Alien Weaponry is in the show. You've got a video of that band and they are very much in that demographic, but also shaking up thrash metal and how te reo be used in music.

    Paul Diamond: Well, Alien Weaponry are a fascinating phenomenon for the country. And the two brothers in that group came through the Māori language immersion system. They went to Kohanga and Kura Kaupapa Māori. Now I don't think we ever thought that the kids from there, we might have thought they'll go to Matatini and they'll do kapa haka. I don't think they ever thought they would do thrash metal and Māori, and have Danish audiences learning haka and answering them back.

    I think this is amazing for this country. It is great that it's that younger voice, but I think it's like one of those watershed moments like when the anthem was sung in Māori at Twickenham and people thought the sky was going to fall, but now we sing it and Māori first anyway, all of us do.

    I think it's a huge leap forward in terms of the profile of Māori performance in the world. And also, another idea in this exhibition is that that Māori performance represents New Zealand. And there's a woman called Marianne Schultz who I'd come across this when I was a researcher and she's done a really fantastic PhD, which became a book about Māori performance.

    And one of her arguments is that things like the haka, when the All Blacks do the haka, that represents New Zealand. And she's right, it's transcended, what do they call it? A posture dance.

    It is a symbol of New Zealand, like they korero on the Air New Zealand plane or the Kiwi. So that's the other interesting thing about performance and that's, but what these three young guys are doing is completely challenging the idea of what that is, that you can be Māori because you're singing in your own language. You're singing in the language of this country, but you're singing it in that form.

    And I'm probably the last person who be interestsed in in heavy metal, but when I started listening to the stuff I couldn't get over how clever it was. And it was so really, really good the way they use the English and Māori. Their videos are great.

    Mary Hay: There videos are great.

    Paul Diamond: So it wasn't too hard to include them as part of this. And it gave us a lovely endpoint. You've got that ancient legend from the beginning of time right through to this, which is happening at the moment.

    Seán McMahon: Fantastic. As you go through this show your themes have an area. And so for the visitors coming in they go through the show, they'll see one of your areas and on to the next. They're all quite discrete. They're all captioned. You've got the video in one room, where you can go on and hear the music and the interviews. You go right around, you end up with Ans Westra, the famous New Zealand documentary photographera at the end. You're left with these wonderful photographs from the 1963 from Ans. Whatatutu school in Gisborne. And the way Ans was shooting was on a medium format camera, which was shooting from the hip. So it was 12 shots per reel. And that you printed off the contact sheet. So you can see these 12 shots on the contacts sheets. You've got two of them, and then you've blown them up massively onto the wall. So you get this visual sensation of seeing the order she shot them but you also get this microscopic detail of what's in the photos.

    And I notice from that performance in the school that there are pois, there's a lot of poi going on, but also the singing. So one lad's got a broomstick with an Edmond's baking tin can, which is his mic. And then those drums, these little sort of old style, sort of tambourine type drums which they're beating on, and very animated.

    And she's captured going back to that te ihi, te wehi, te wana in that because everyone's performing and they're all kids. And you get that sense coming right back at you.

    Mary Hay: Yeah, so we get the sense. Yes, the whole experience.

    Paul Diamond: Well, that's the brilliance of Ans westra's photography is that she's got this amazing ability to capture that sense of vitality. And the this exhibition is driven by collections. And one of the collections we were aware of was Ans's collection of her negatives, which have been digitized, but still not really that well known. And when we looked through them we thought, well, there's quite a lot of images of performance in this collection because when Anssort of got herself into places where she could photograph Māori, often there was performance.

    And it kind of reinforced our idea that performance is sort of at the heart of Māori culture. You don't really have to look very hard in her collection to find examples. So we thought a way in to do that would be to look at two of the famous images of performance, which is one of woman doing kupe kupe at the coronation commemorations at Ngaruawahia, Turangawaewae marae, and the one you've mentioned, about the schoolchildren near Gisborne.

    So actually in that classroom, what I didn't know till I looked at the proof sheets was the kids on the left are doing poi, the girls are doing poi, but the boys have got their band with the Edmond's baking tin and the things on the right. So Ans is kind of moving between the two, but she zooms in on both those boys.

    But I just love the way Ans captures life, the vitality of life. Most of those images are from a 60 to 63, a very short period of time. But there's all that stuff going on, but that stuff's always going on. It's going on in a different way now and it's probably being captured on phones not cameras, but that's our mihi to her is just the most extraordinary beautiful collection that she was generous enough to donate here and that's just one example of the many, many, many donors who entrust us with their collections.

    Seán McMahon: You've given us a quote here from Ans when you were talking to her about the exhibition, which you've actually used in the caption, ‘I would love to see this exhibition dance make people smile. I feel that we need that just now. All that talent amongst Māori, let's celebrate.’ And that's what you feel at the end of this exhibition.

    Paul Diamond: Well, that's really gratifying. And I think Ans got what we were trying to do-- taking that original idea of Chris's to celebrate Māori performance. And Natalie Marshall, our photo curator, arranged for us to meet with Ans and her sister, Yvonne, who does the printing and the preparation of Ans's images. And David Alsop, her gallarist and we explained to Ans what we were trying to do and she just got it.

    And in fact, she didn't just get it. She actually gave us a spur, she inspired us because it was reassuring to think, yeah, I think we are on the right track here. There is something here. And yeah, so. It's really lazy really grabbing other people's quotes for your text, but I just thought it was a beautiful, beautiful quote, and she was really chuffed that we used it.

    Seán McMahon: So the themes, the 14 themes that have been developed from the overarching vision for the exhibition and how does that manifest itself through the selection of items?

    Paul Diamond: Well, it was a process. It was like a whanaga process. They talk about this being a form of how Māori discuss things. And that's where you get together and you, and part of the process is that people have a chance to contribute and give their feedback. And some of those sessions would be, for me you now, great moments for me in the development of this. It's the working alongside the two other curators, and also Peter Ireland (Gallery and Exhibitions Specialist), and also Neil Pardington (exhibtion designer) and others as well.

    And what happened with that was the distillation of the ideas into this, it's like a conceptual framework, really. And it made it much easy for us because really everything people would throw at us, we could say, well, that's where it kind of relates.

    And also, it gave us the chance to have the interconnections, which I think is another exciting thing. So things like the film, ‘Once were warriors’, for example, pop up right through the exhibition because we were aware it was a big anniversary of that.

    But rather than having you know a section looking at ‘Once were warriors’ you actually see the story and you see like the screenwriter Riwia Brown , whosesiblings were also involved in key Māori-- bits of the history of Māori performance.

    So it's not really a chronological structure and it's not really breaking performance into sort of types and things, it's actually a more integrated structure. And, yeah. It did take a process to get there, and that's the value of working with a team. And we worked really well together as a team because I think the fact that we all felt comfortable.

    And actually that meant comfortable about disagreeing. And the other two, and Peter and Neil, have very different ways of looking collections to me. But that was really valuable, I think, with where we ended up.

    Mary Hay: Is there, do you have a favorite theme in the exhibition?

    Paul Diamond: No. I guess ...

    Mary Hay: Like a favourite child?

    Paul Diamond No. I was just relieved we got them.

    Mary Hay: So I have a theme that I'm quite interested in, and it's the performance and grief theme. And then there's these three very powerful pictures hanging on the wall talking about performance and grief. And one of them is the photo of Nakisha Kingi and Azaria Thompson. And I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about that?

    Paul Diamond A thing that happened to us was that as part of our research process, the attacks and terrorist attacks in Christchurch happened, and that meant that the spotlight went on haka and the aftermath of that, and how those were performed by schoolchildren and others. And that made us think about performance in that context of grief.

    So you know tangihanga, which is a really amazing institution in the Māori world, has all sorts of elements of performance in it. So that, we'd already been thinking that we needed to acknowledge that, but this made it even more important but what was great about this was that we looked at the coverage. We looked at the things on YouTube, the clips of overseas media, the film footage of that. And Ariana's from Christchurch as well, so understands quite a lot of the context and then can point out things like that the haka that the kids were doing was the haka composed after Christchurch, the Christchurch earthquakes.

    So another experience of trauma being used to respond to a different experience of trauma. But what was interesting about this process of thinking about that image and how to tell the story of what happened in Christchurch in Pūkana was that it really illustrated another theme in the exhibition Mai i te ātea, the camera on the shore, which basically in a nutshell, is challenging ourselves to try and show the collections of the Turnbull from Māori perspectives because overwhelmingly the collections of the Turnbull are not collected by Māori.

    They're of Māori, but they're often other people observing what Māori are doing. So we had to write an article about the exhibition for the, ‘Off the record’. And I was keen to sort of angle it on, isn't it amazing how the BBC and The Guardian are saying about haka. And what started off as a war, aggressive sort of, what they called it a war dance, is now used to express unity and grief.
    And Ariana said, ‘Well, rather than doing that, what did those kids think about what they were doing and who were those kids?’ And so I said, ‘Well, you're from Christchurch, try and find out.’

    Mary Hay: (Laughter) Find out.

    Seán McMahon: Do the research.

    Paul Diamond: And we knew we could see their school uniforms, Burnside High and Christchurch Girls. So she activated her, she's a good social media person. And we found out here that it's Nakisha King and Azaria Thompson. And more importantly, from Ariana's point of view, was that they were OK about the photo being used.

    So that's another thing about processes. In a legal sense we just had to get approval from Associated Press. We paid a fee, but for Ariana there was a whole other ethical dimension to this that she wanted those girls to be comfortable.

    Seán McMahon: So can you tell us something about the team behind? You would have had to bring in a big team to be able to deal with all the design, project management, selection of items.

    Paul Diamond: I guess that it's a way I work and all the work I do at the library is collaborative, and I get a lot of inspiration and ideas from people. And when Chris suggested that there be a sort of a curatorial team, I was keen on that. And it ended up being me as lead curator and Ariana Tikao as another curator, and Vicki-Anne Heikell.

    And what's brilliant about that was that, I mean, it's a big exhibition, it's a big space. And I'd done exhibitions here before, but only in the small Turnbull gallery, which is a much smaller space. And the challenge there is almost you usually have too much for that space, whereas this was how we're going to tell the stories about Māori performance in this big space?

    Another reason why it was great working with those two is that Ariana has researched librarian Māori here. We started about the same time. But she's also a musician and she's a composer and a performer, and knows a lot about taonga puoro. And has amazing connections throughout the mighty performing world.

    And then Vicki-Anne Heikell runs the national preservation office in our outreach services section, but she's also a playwright and has great connections in Māori theater and other bits of, among Māori performers. And she's also got very clear ideas about how the Māori theater that we know now, where that sort of came from.

    So it was lovely working with those two. And then the other person who really was like a team member, it was Peter Ireland, who's our gallery specialist, who's been at the library since it opened in 1987.

    And the gallery was part of the library in a different place when the library opened, and he's been involved with every exhibition that we've had since then. And he's got an extraordinary experience. And also, he's had this experience of working with different curators, which I think gives him a lovely patience and empathy in helping people tell their stories. And at crucial moments he would say or do things, or make suggestions that were just absolutely crucial. So it was that team.

    And then Neil Pardington who's a designer came on board as well. But actually he came on board to help us as a project manager for the delivery of the exhibition and the gallery, which was really good for me because it meant that I could focus on the content and the curation. And like Peter, Neil's hugely experienced he's done lots of work with us and other places. And actually, working with him was like a lesson in why design matters and how design can help you tell the stories you want to tell.

    Seán McMahon: OK. So we going down towards the end of the show now, Paul. So we'd like to end this interview by literally giving you the opportunity to have the very last word.

    Paul Diamond: So if I had to select a word, it's a pretty simple, humble word. But it's a word I think that I always come back to in my work at the Turnbull Library and it's connecting, connections. And I think it's just part of the way I work. Whatever I'm doing, I'm always interested in the interconnections, for example, between the collections, but also between the staff and the number of times in our tea room I'll bump into Mary Hay or Emerson Vandy, or someone and get an idea for how what we're doing connects with what someone else is doing.

    And it is just the way I work and in the curation of Pūkana, there was a lot of information and inspiration, and ideas that came from other people. But it's also interesting to me to build the knowledge of the collections, so that you can make those connections. And that's what I think we've tried to do in Pūkana as well, but you know, connections and connecting.

    Seán McMahon: Well, that's it for this episode of the Library Loudhailer. Thanks again to Paul Diamond, for coming in and talking to us about Pūkana. And a shout out to our sound engineer, Jay Buzenberg and our producer, Aaron Wanoa, and to you most of all, our wonderful audience.

    Join us again next month for more audio stories from the Library.

    You can find details for each episode and the show notes available on the National Library website.

    Due to the global pandemic and recent national lockdown the Pūkana exhibition closing date has now been extended until the 30th of July, 2020. So if you're in Wellington, we hope you'll visit the National Library to see this wonderful exhibition for yourself. You can also hear Paul give a guided audio tour of the exhibition on our website under the heading Pūkana curators talk.

    To see us out, we have a very special live recording. This is the Taita college polygroup group performing ‘Kotiro Māori E’ from the opening ceremony of the Pūkana exhibition on the 16th of September, 2019.

    Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you next time. Ka kite ano.

    (Taita College performance — music playing)

    Any errors with the transcript, let us know and we'll fix them: digital-services@dia.govt.nz

Karetao wooden carvings of people with movable joints.
L to R: Karetao gifted by Alexander Turnbull to Dominion Museum Ref: ME003639. Karetao from Oldman Collection held by Te Papa Ref: OL000175. Photo by Mark Beatty

More about Pūkana

Find out more about Pūkana.

Pūkana exhibition page — includes resources about Māori perfomance.

Audio tour of exhibition — Pūkana — curator's talk.

Public history lecture — Paul Diamond’s public talk about the exhibition content.

People at the Pūkana exhibition.
Enjoing the Pūkana exhibition.

Acknowlegement

Thanks to Taita College Polygroup for allowing us to use their performance of ‘Kotiro Māori E’.

Music references

You heard the following music in this Library Loudhailer podcast.

Intro theme song — ‘Funiculi Funicula’ the final track on from Keil Isles album ‘Take Off’.

Outro — ‘Kotiro Māori E’ performed by Taita College Polygroup at the opening of the Pūkana exhbition. Used with permission.

Library Loudhailer podcast

This recording is an episode from The Library Loudhailer podcast.

Use the comments below to send us your questions and feedback – we’d love to know what you enjoyed (or didn’t) and what else you’d like to hear about.

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