Māori curatorship at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki 1998-2001 : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Museum Studies at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This thesis documents the experience of Ngāhiraka Mason, the first appointee to the Māori curatorial position at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. It examines the development of her curatorial practice with specific focus on contemporary Māori art. The purpose of the thesis is to describe the conditions and relationships which influence Ngāhiraka's practice as a Māori curator. The thesis identifies the Māori curatorial position as an important development in the Gallery's relationship with Māori. In order to understand its significance, a history of Māori representation at the Gallery is constructed. Based on acquisition, exhibition and archival data, recurring patterns of racial prejudice and discrimination against Māori are revealed. The thesis then investigates the events which gave rise to the position in order to understand the Gallery's motives and present the complex environment in which the Māori curator practises. Ngāhiraka's personal narrative is at the heart of the thesis, a narrative that chronicles the cultural and educational experiences that brought her to the Gallery. Ngāhiraka then describes the conditions and expectations she encountered and the conflict between Curator and Kaitiaki as models of practice. The development of her first Māori art exhibition Pūrangiaho: Seeing Clearly (2001) is analysed to provide evidence of her agency within the site. The exhibition is then deconstructed as an expression of Māori identity and its impact is evaluated from several perspectives. The thesis contends that the Gallery exerts a level of influence that compromises Ngāhiraka's ability to effectively represent Māori. It is argued that the art museum is threatened by the practice of Māori values. The Māori curator then, carries a different kaupapa (framework) which inevitably challenges the balance of power at the Gallery. There is however, a level of intransigence in the art museum that cannot be affected by the incursions of a single Māori employee. The thesis concludes that Ngāhiraka's practice primarily advantages the Gallery and is of limited benefit to Māori. Despite this, Ngāhiraka takes what opportunity is afforded to her and issues a wero (challenge) to contemporary Māori artists. She postulates a new criterion upon which they should be judged which involves making a positive contribution to the viability of Māori at a social level. In doing so, Ngāhiraka engages her practice with Māori-self-determination and becomes an activist against institutional racism.