Robin Morrison’s work through contemporary eyes

As part of our exhibition A Decade of Days – Auckland through Robin Morrison’s eyes, we collaborated with Manukau Institute of Technology, Fresh Gallery Otara, the public and invited experts to explore people, places and themes represented by photographs within the exhibition.

Robin Morrison (1944-1993) was one of New Zealand’s most celebrated photojournalists. His striking, unpretentious images allowed us to see ourselves, and our way of life, as if for the first time. They are revealing and unexpected, and still provoke us today. We were curious to find out more about some of the photographs we selected for the exhibition; to gather local stories of the people, places and social history that Morrison captured for the New Zealand Listener all those years ago.

Otara Markets by Robin Morrison.

Morrison, Robin (1981). Otara Markets. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira. PH-TR650-M881-NP2

Opening worlds – taking the exhibition beyond our walls

In collaboration with Fresh Gallery Otara and Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), we took elements of the exhibition to other venues in Auckland. We installed image reproductions in Otara Town Centre and at MIT; including a few of the photos Morrison took of the early Otara markets, local community spaces and local people.

MIT window boxes

Reproductions of Robin Morrison’s images were installed at MIT asking the question ‘Do these spark a memory?'

To share some of these wider contextual stories with the communities they came from, on the 12th March 2014 Fresh Gallery hosted the first of two evenings. Our speakers, Janneen Love (Auckland Museum), Ron Brownson (Auckland Art Gallery) and Vinesh Kumaran (contemporary portrait photographer), conducted an interactive session.

What’s love got to do with it?

Janneen was the exhibition developer for A Decade of Days and our first speaker. She gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the exhibition with her unique insight into Morrison’s work. She titled her presentation “What’s love got to do with it?” and in six minutes (the time limit we gave her) she was able to define love (a strong feeling of affection) and how it was woven into not only Morrison’s photos, but also into the work the museum’s collections and exhibitions teams do when caring for the images and developing the exhibition.

Portrait of Dame Whina Cooper by Robin Morrison

Morrison, Robin (1975). Dame Whina Cooper. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira. PH-TR650-M881-n7p1

Love illustrated the process of culling the large number of Morrison’s black and white prints that he had compiled into a folder he titled ‘Decade of Days.’ In this way, Morrison had already begun to curate the exhibition. Through further discussion the team was able to identify strong thematic narratives that were evident in his collection, which then informed the final exhibition design. She offered a discerning and compassionate representation of Robin Morrison, and reiterated the importance of sharing these stories to wider audiences – breaking down the perceived institutional walls and reaching out into the community.

The exhibition team select images.

The exhibition team select images from one of Robin Morrison’s image folders which he labelled ‘Decade of Days.’

Morrison non-intrusively captured intimate moments

Ron Brownson – Senior curator of New Zealand and Pacific Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki – opened his presentation by listing the extensive number of publications that Morrison was involved with, a testament to the photographer’s prodigious creative output.

Brownson guided us through many of Morrison’s photographs, discussing his legacy as “one of the key photojournalists of our time” who had the ability to “make connections with his subjects.” He evidenced a series of Morrison’s images from Takaparawha/Bastion Point, where “Robin was one of the very few people Ngati Whātua allowed to photograph at the Marae – there was no sense of him being an alien to that environment.” He also drew comparisons with current photographers’ who are able to non-intrusively record intimate moments in the manner of Morrison.

'Target Māori men first' by Robin Morrison.

Morrison, Robin (1978). Target Māori men first. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira. PH-TR650-M881-N10p3

Documenting people and a sense of place

Contemporary portrait photographer Vinesh Kumaran gave us a fascinating insight into his own work, and how he, like Morrison, seeks to establish connections with his subjects. He spoke about his work and how photography can open worlds for its audience, as illustrated by his series of Auckland dairy owners—a theme which Morrison also explored in his images of Ponsonby shop owners. Both Kumaran and Morrison seek to convey the hard work and dedication of these business owners, hence Kumaran’s series title Open all Hours. As he said of one of his subjects: “he wants us to see his pride, that this is his shop”.

'Open all hours' by Vinesh Kumaran.

Kumaran, Vinesh (2012). Khandy K. Patel, part of a series from 'Open all hours'.

Morrison, Robin. Washing Machine Man. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira.

Morrison, Robin. Washing Machine Man. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira.

Kumaran showed us his work in South Auckland, particularly his portraits at Polyfest and of people inside their homes, in which he seeks to “put a positive spin on South Auckland”. This is another connection he has with Morrison, who was one of the first photographers to explore and document the people of South Auckland. Morrison’s photos of the early days of Polyfest provide us with a wonderful juxtaposition to Kumaran’s contemporary images, and together show the evolution of the festival and document the experience and community that has been built around this major Auckland cultural event.

Morrison, Robin. Polyfest. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira.

Kumaran, Vinesh (2012). Agene Filoa, Polyfest hair project.

Challenges in the digital realm

The evening ended with a Q&A that raised a number of topical points such as the correct identification of people featured in photos, and the ownership of an image in our digital world. Many of the people captured in Robin Morrison’s photos have not been identified. Is it the responsibility of the photographer or the institution displaying the work to ensure the subject is correctly identified? And if we don’t have correct identification, then should the images be left out of public view? Or do we share them with wider audiences in the hope of unlocking some of the background stories?

Ainslie Dewe, an advisor in our digital team, notes that “social media and the web provide the opportunity for co-creation of knowledge, not just from traditional experts but also drawing on the knowledge of the public in ways that have not previously been possible. The images may have already been publicly available but were hard to find. The web makes them more visible and social media provides the ability for anyone to contribute new knowledge about them.”

You are welcome to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments box below.

About the writers

Bethany Edmunds is Youth Outreach Programmer and Olivia Willock is Social History Programmer, in the Learning and Engagement team at Auckland Museum.

Image: From left Janneen Love, Vinesh Kumaran, Ron Brownson and Olivia Willock.

The Robin Morrison collection at Auckland Museum

In 1993 Robin Morrison bequeathed his entire collection to the Auckland Museum. Our current estimates on the collection size is it contains 50,000 colour, and 50,000 black and white images. It is one of the largest photography collections we have by a single photographer.

The exhibition A Decade of Days – Auckland through Robin Morrison’s eyes features a selection of Morrison’s black and white photographs of his city, Auckland, from 1971 to 1985.

Online reading

A Decade of Days – Auckland through Robin Morrison’s eyes

Our exhibition features a selection of Robin’s black and white photographs of his city, Auckland, from 1971 to 1985. Most were found in a folder labelled ‘Decade of Days’ amid the vast collection of images given to the museum before he died.

Robin Morrison

A brief biography of Robin Morrison and a selection of his images.

Robin Morrison online collections Auckland Museum

Browse Auckland Museum’s online catalogue for publications and images relating to Robin Morrison.

Robin Morrison biography on Art New Zealand

Read Rhondda Bosworth’s essay on Robin Morrison life and work.

Sense of Place: Robin Morrison, Photographer

Watch this full length Robin Morrison documentary on New Zealand On Screen.

Vinesh Kumaran

Visit the photographer’s website.

Fijian breastplates inspire contemporary artist

Paper breastplates series (2014) by Ema Tavola.

Paper breastplates series (2014) by Ema Tavola.

I recently attended #Tattoo4Tonga: Pacific Artists fundraising for Ha’apai held at Fresh Gallery, Otara where a series of paper breastplates by Ema Tavola caught my attention. They were abstractions of prestigious civavonovono, Fijian chief’s breastplates of whales tooth and pearl shell, which she saw in Auckland Museum’s Pacific collections.

Ema is an independent writer, curator and arts administrator under her own company PIMPI KNOWS. She was one of a group of artists, that included Tongan tattooist Stanley Lolohea, who organised the event to raise funds for people of the Ha’apai islands devastated by Cyclone Ian in January.

Ema visited the museum in early February to join Associate Curator Māori, Nigel Borell, for a back-of-house tour of the Ethnology collections when she came across some civavonovono. In the information that accompanied the paper breastplates Ema writes that:

I was inspired after a visit to the Auckland Museum storeroom where I encountered some exquisite Fijian breastplates kept in dark little drawers. Being so close to them without a glass cabinet between us, I felt attached and energised by them; I’ve been intrigued with Fijian breastplate design for a long time. Although I was able to photograph them, I was asked not to share the imagery. I loved encountering these beautiful objects and wanted to tell the world! As a social media creature, I found this proposition quite challenging… So, this series came about.

So in an ingenious way Ema then created works that she could share and discuss on social media and her blog.

Ema’s experience highlights the importance of museums not only having collections on display in the exhibition spaces – in which we currently have five civavonovono displayed – but also providing back-of-house access that allows for closer, more personal experiences and encounters with collections. This also provides opportunities for quiet research and study.

Auckland Museum has many and varied stored collections here for the public to enjoy, which can be accessed with some advanced planning. Providing access to our collections helps to demystify museums and museological practices, creating more awareness and understanding of why we do what we do.


A civavonovono from the James Burton Turner collection. AM 13336.

A civavonovono from the James Burton Turner collection. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. Ethnology 13336.

This image is of one of the civavonovono from our Pacific collection that inspired Ema’s paper breastplate series. It comes from the Hon. James Burton Turner collection, which includes over 200 other items from Fiji. Turner was born at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand in 1849 and educated at Wesley College and Auckland Grammar School. He lived in Fiji in the late 19th century and later became the mayor of Fiji in the early 20th century. During his time in Fiji Turner accumulated a significant collection, which was gifted to the museum in 1925.

This civavonovono is made of four pieces of whale ivory. They are bound to the central polished civa (or black-lipped pearl shell) with hibiscus fibre and then attached to a braided sennit cord.

Civavonovono like this one are said to have been made by Tongan and Sāmoan master canoe builders for Fijian chiefs. There are similarities in the techniques that are used to make civavonovono and canoe hulls, where binding is on the inside and can’t be seen from the outside. They are worn around the neck during dancing and in combat.

A modern reinterpretation

Ema’s series of paper breastplates are made using pages from magazines and journals about Auckland, Renaissance art, American muscle cars, contemporary art, oceans, Fijian arts and culture and the Bible. This reflects some of the historical and cultural landscape within which some civavonovono have been created, as well as mirroring the contemporary context where the breastplates exist today.

Her paper series are each beautifully framed and have in turn become adornments to be hung on walls. For me, they are a wonderful reminder of the value that museums have as guardians of our koloa tukufakaholo (cultural heritage) and provide a rich source of inspiration for artists such as Ema Tavola.

Further reading

  • Pacific Jewellery and Adornment by Roger Neich and Fuli Pereira (2004)
  • Pacific Encounters: Art and Divinity in Polynesia, 1760 – 1860 by Steven Hooper (2006)
  • Yalo i Viti: Shades of Viti: A Fiji Museum Catalogue by Fergus Clunie (1986)
  • Visit Ema Tavola’s website to view the full series of paper breastplates

Culture & Country: the diary of a photography intern

German graduate student Clara Wenzel-Theiler spent four months as an intern with Auckland Museum’s photographer Krzysztof Pfeiffer. The 19-year-old shares her experience of working with an award-winning photographer, meeting royalty, and visiting 60 marae around New Zealand.

Last year in summer, after finishing my Abitur (German school graduation), I thought it would be a good thing to gain some practical experience before I start my studies in photography in Germany. So I applied for an internship in NZ and was chosen to work with Krzysztof Pfeiffer, the museum’s photographer.

Working in a museum was a unique opportunity for me, because where else can you learn so much about culture and country, if not here? During my time in the museum, I have gained insights into various fields and almost all aspects of photography – product photography, macro photography, portrait, functions and events, available light and night photography. And of course New Zealand has the most beautiful landscape to photograph!

As my time here in the museum comes to an end now (like all good things in life) I want to share with you a small selection of the work I have done in the museum and during my travels.

Events and Exhibition Openings

The two times I had to photograph an exhibition opening were special to me. I watched the staff members who put lots of effort into the exhibition get excited (and nervous) about the opening, and the relief and happiness that everything worked as it should work (that’s what I experienced during photographing the Urbanlife exhibition). It was also great to watch the visitors’ reaction, especially the kids, who enter a new world when they enter the exhibition.

Tamariki of the next generation get involved in the Urbanlife hub in our Tamaki gallery

Navigating Spaces poets view their Spoken Word Poetry installation on the walls of the Pacific Masterpieces gallery

My favourite is the colourful Weird & Wonderful gallery with all the interactive activities for the kids. To capture all this was a lot of fun, though challenging as the light conditions are not the best as it was always quite dark.

Museum staff preparing for the reopening of our children’s Weird & Wonderful gallery in December 2012.

Being photography intern has another advantage: free entry to museum events!

I attended the last LATE at the Museum in November, which was very interesting, and the I AM Making Movies awards.  The Māori children’s dancing group [kapahaka] – which performed during the awards – really impressed me. I loved them!

Clendon Park School Kapahaka group performed at the I AM Making Movies awards night

Another personal highlight was the visit of Prince Charles in November. I had to stand amongst a crowd of press photographers – and getting a good shot really had its difficulties.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at Auckland War Memorial Museum on Armistice Day

Travelling and the Māori Maps Project

Of course I have done some travelling, too. During the summer break I explored the North Island and South Island for two weeks, visiting lots of main towns, for example Wellington, must-see-sites and lots of gorgeous beaches. I also assisted Krzysztof in the Māori Maps project, which involved travelling throughout the country, photographing every (yes, I am not kidding!) existing marae.

Navigating the country to photograph every known marae

These photographs will be published on and will also be available to the museum. The website helps users find tribal marae of Aotearoa New Zealand – through maps, information and photographs. My task in this project was to document the travels of the last two trips. Through this project, I have seen some of the most remote places in New Zealand and learned a lot about the Kiwi way of life, as the team members were all true Kiwis (except me of course…). I appreciate the opportunity that has been given to me, as I am now perhaps the only European visitor that has visited about 60 marae!

A marae in a remote part of the East Coast.

In the studio

As my interests lie especially in advertising and food photography, I was very keen to learn more about studio photography. I am glad that Krzysztof let me do so much on my own; he showed me tips and tricks and left the rest to me. So whenever the museum shop needed some shots – or publishing shots of artifacts were needed – I did it.

Carving by Tim Codyre who lives at Oneriri near the Kaipara Harbour

A vase by Taupo glass artist Lynden Over

I learned about lighting and composition, also about how to make a good portrait, which I had only done with available light before, and I can tell now that it is a lot more difficult in the studio.

I am sure that this internship will help me a lot in my further studies, I learned a lot and I am sure that I will come to visit New Zealand again … some time!

International Day of Solidarity: Bosnia-Herzegovina cultural institutions close

From Roy Clare, Director Auckland War Memorial Museum:

“The entire world was touched by the crisis in the former Republic of Yugoslavia during the 90s. Peaceful times have been restored in Sarejevo and in recent years the Bosnian people have been dedicated to restoring pride in their nation and once again to celebrating their culture.

“Despite a harsh economic climate, the closure of the city’s museum is a gravely short-sighted measure. Museums add value in the lives of people: the right of access to material culture, to artefacts and heritage collections is a basic human necessity. People deprived of understanding their past stand very little chance of being able to make sense of their future.

“In common with museums across the globe, Auckland War Memorial Museum deplores the closure of museums and cultural institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We stand up for the role of museums in giving people access to collections and liberating the stories that help to define identity and support education, learning and scholarship.

“Museums should be defined by their cultural, social and environmental value and not merely by what they cost.”

We invited Phillipa Tocker, the Executive Director of Museums Aotearoa to write a guest blog about these closures:

What if Te Papa, Auckland Museum, the National Library, Film Archive and three other major cultural institutions were closed down indefinitely?

This is exactly what has happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Over the past few years budgets and opening hours have been squeezed, and now seven major public institutions have closed.  The list includes:

  • National and University Library
  • Historical Museum
  • National Library for the Blind
  • National Film Archive
  • Museum of Literature and Theatre Arts
  • National Art Gallery
  • National Museum of Bosnia-Herzegovina

Reasons for the closures in Bosnia-Herzegovina include financial crisis and legal and political wrangling over responsibility as a legacy of civil war.  The situation has been brought to international attention through the cultureshutdown website and activity including today’s International Day of Museum Solidarity.

To support institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, museums all over the world are putting yellow tape across key exhibits, effectively ‘closing’ them in solidarity with the closed museums in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and bringing this to the attention of the visiting public.

While solidarity with international colleagues is a good thing, there is much more that can be done locally. Museums Aotearoa actively gathers data about museums and galleries, and makes this information publicly available. Museum sector surveys have been conducted regularly, with the most recent published report from 2009.  A new, more comprehensive museum sector survey was carried out in late 2012. The report is due out later this month (contact if you would like to be notified).

While this kind of survey can show the amount of public and private money museums receive, the number of staff employed, and visitors to their programmes, both physical and virtual, it is much harder to quantify the ‘value’ that museums bring to their communities by their very existence.

To fulfil its role in the community, a museum must be open to visit, and offer a wide range of ways for people to gain access to its offerings – through targeted events, temporary and ‘permanent’ exhibitions, and virtual programming.

An example of a museum which has continued to fulfil this role even though it has been closed due to earthquakes is Christchurch Art Gallery – it is keeping its audiences engaged through offsite and online programmes, and it most assuredly will reopen as soon as it can.

Michael Parekowhai Chapman's Homer 2011. Bronze, stainless steel. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett, Auckland. Photographer: John Collie, Christchurch Art Gallery

To fulfil its role for future generations, a museum must continue to research and collect cultural material.  This ensures that objects, buildings, archives and taonga from the past are preserved safely; and that the evidence and knowledge of contemporary innovations, knowledge, social, cultural and creative endeavour is understood, collected and preserved.

Our museums are part of a network of organisations, working alongside, and often in close collaboration with, archives, libraries, universities and other research bodies.

For example, in 2011, Auckland Museum was part of a scientific and cultural expedition to the Kermadecs, a group of small islands to the north east of New Zealand.  The participating organisations have gathered a mass of collected material and data that will form part of the heritage of future generations. Their research has already given rise to blogs, scientific papers and creative works and Auckland Museum will bring more of this to the public with an exhibition later this year.

Clinton Duffy, Department of Conservation Scientific Officer for Marine Species conducts a fish count on the Western Side of North Meyer Island © Richard Robinson

In April, Museums Aotearoa will hold its annual conference in Hamilton.  As part of that programme, we will present a public lecture by Professor Brad Jackson, the Fletcher Building Education Trust Chair in Leadership at the University of Auckland.  Brad has been looking at New Zealand’s potential to become a global ‘testing ground’ for the new leadership practices, models and processes that the world needs in order to respond effectively to the complex man-made and natural challenges that are increasing in frequency and in intensity.

New Zealand is blessed with a number of innovative, thought-leading museums; there are also some much-loved, quirky examples that add spice to the cultural mix. It is up to us to show our solidarity and support for them all, and to ensure they continue to serve our communities into the future.

Phillipa Tocker
Executive Director, Museums Aotearoa

Returning to Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island)

As the archaeologist at Auckland Museum I most enjoy digging in the ground, getting my hands dirty, and the satisfaction of removing layers of soil to uncover postholes, fireplaces and stone flakes from where people hundreds of years ago decided to set up camp for a while.

When I am in the office I describe the objects in our collection and use them for research. I also receive enquiries from the public and professionals about our collections, which come from around the world as well as New Zealand.

But like most archaeologists it is the field work I like best. I even derive some perverse pleasure from the sore back and knees I experience in the first few days of an excavation when I discover muscles I haven’t used for a while.

These muscles will be in use again this week when we head off for the next stage in a joint archaeology project with the University of Auckland on Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island), off the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula.

The view from my ‘office’ for the next few weeks.

The view from my ‘office’ for the next few weeks.

This is a long term research project looking at the history of occupation on the island. We are collaborating with Ngati Hei, and with the owner of the island Sir Michael Fay.

Last summer the first excavations were carried out and students from the university on the Fieldschool course learned how to excavate. We excavated a garden site and also a site in the dunes where fish, seals, dog and shellfish were cooked.

There was a regular blog written by staff and students on our activities, complete with photographs showing progress. The blog is being revived for this field season.

We are returning to the island for three weeks of excavation on a garden site in the northwest part of the island and on a settlement site in the middle of the island. It will be challenging, rewarding, and most of the time it will be good, although when it is wet, very windy, or very hot, my office in Auckland Museum will be more appealing.

However, all the trying days will be forgotten when we have excavated a big area of a site and uncovered the postholes which show the outline of a house (hopefully houses), where the fireplace was inside the house, where the cooking area was, and where the people who lived there dug their pits to store the kumara tubers or where they dropped the stone flakes they used as tools. This is uncovering the past.

Hearth stones of a fireplace inside a house.

Hearth stones of a fireplace inside a house.

Join us as we make our discoveries by following the Great Mercury excavation blog. Become an armchair archaeologist and ask questions about the excavations through the blog, all without having to get your hands dirty.

A Massive museum experience

Massive Theatre Company’s South and Central ensembles are part of Auckland Museum’s Urbanlife project which aims to give youth a platform to express their views on the city they live in. The issue the Massive group is looking at is economic wellbeing – an issue that confronts a lot of people working in the creative arts. This is their account of the Urbanlife process which they began in April 2012.

At the start of the process we spent hours looking at the museum collections and used photos from the museum’s pictorial collections to spark inspiration, including the work of two female photographers Margaret Matilda White and Una Garlick.


Margaret Matilda White's image - Nurses with Mr Hodson smoking in the garden at Auckland Private Hospital 1890s

Margaret Matilda White's image - Nurses with Mr Hodson smoking in the garden at Auckland Private Hospital 1890s

Margaret Matilda White's image - Three nurses on bicycles at the Auckland Private Hospital, 1890s

Margaret Matilda White's image - Three nurses on bicycles at the Auckland Private Hospital, 1890s

Looking at these images and talking about these female photographers lead us to think about the sort of expectations that were placed on women at the time – the fact they were expected to give up their passions like photography to settle down and look after their families.

Una Garlick's image - Una Garlick's image Rangitoto from Mission Bay. Large pine trees on the beach at Mission Bay, with man in hat walking past park bench. Panorama of Rangitoto in background.

Una Garlick's image - Una Garlick's image Rangitoto from Mission Bay. Large pine trees on the beach at Mission Bay, with man in hat walking past park bench. Panorama of Rangitoto in background.

We also took inspiration from important figures of history in the museum like Sir Ed Hillary. We thought about his struggles and used those as inspiration to talk about the struggles in our own lives and the lives of our family to do with our economic wellbeing and the fight to meet our needs and wants.

Bula performs his piece inspired by Sir Ed's story during Massive Company's Urbanlife performance at Mangere Arts Centre

Bula performs his piece inspired by Sir Ed's story during Massive Company's Urbanlife performance at Mangere Arts Centre

As we left one of the early workshop sessions at the museum Bethany Edmunds who heads up the Urbanlife project said: “Stories exist here at the museum, it’s just a matter of unlocking them and letting them live and come alive.” It’s a very potent statement and a great overall idea. The museum is the natural home of inspiration and stories and that’s a great thing to introduce young theatre groups to as they learn about storytelling and finding their voice.

Massive Central during a research visit to Auckland Museum

Massive Central during a research visit to Auckland MuseumExhibition Developer Janneen Love sharing the stories and history of Auckland Museum's collections with Massive Central

Massive South taking inspiration from Auckland Museum's WWI Sanctuary - a memorial to the lives lost and the sacrifices of war

Massive South taking inspiration from Auckland Museum's WWI Sanctuary - a memorial to the lives lost and the sacrifices of warWWI Sanctuary

On leaving one of those sessions we all talked about how we were feeling and what ideas the visit had sparked – some of the words we used were: aware, inspired, overwhelmed, full, different ideas about how to tell my story, women in a man’s world, Maori spirituality, passion, looking forward, new feeling about how important the Museum is, emotion and detail in art and photography, openness to growing, branches going off in different directions, excited to jam the stories and start playing, learnt so much, sense of knowledge and taking advantage of that, history, energy behind the objects, intrigued by the war section and women in the war, connection to non-human objects and stories, 1000 ideas.

Shaun (who guided us through the pictorial collection) and Janneen (exhibition developer) were really amazing with sharing their knowledge and skills. Janneen had so many stories to tell everyone about particular areas, people and exhibits and she really made the museum come alive. In my group I know both the library and then going around the museum was so stimulating for everyone.

We also spent time exploring the museum’s galleries and seeing which spaces resonate with the stories we’re trying to tell through our theatre pieces.

Exploring the museum's galleries and spaces ahead of the live performance

Exploring the museum's galleries and spaces ahead of the live performance

Rehearsing ahead of the Massive performances in the museum

Rehearsing ahead of the Massive performances in the museum

It was incredible going from flooking through the collections, galleries and spaces to drawing together the ideas and creating our own stories and transforming that into our devised theatre pieces.

The live performances in the museum and Mangere Arts Centre were a buzz – seeing people react to what we had created and the stories we were telling was a great feeling.

Massive South's performance at the Mangere Arts Centre

Massive South's performance at the Mangere Arts Centre

It’s great to think our stories are now being told inside Auckland Museum. We’re coming back to give more live performances in November (Sunday 18 November – Devised Theatre with Massive Company at 11AM, 1PM, 3PM – meet in the Grand Foyer) and then we will have come full circle.

Navigating Spaces – tapa inspired poetry

Kia ora, Talofa lava, Bula Vinaka, Malo e Lelei and many other Pacific greetings, my name is Arizona Leger and I am one of the many youth taking part in the Urbanlife project. Over the last few months I have been involved in the Culture stream – finding a way to express our voice on cultural issues in Tamaki Makaurau, our city of sails. We chose to voice our opinions through Spoken Word under the guidance and wisdom of our mentor Grace Taylor.

Beginning of our journey

We started off with a workshop which saw four of us attend the HOME AKL exhibition out at Auckland Art Gallery (which is a must see!) and then off to the museum to find ourselves head high in the archives, the stories of our ancestors began to retell themselves from day one.

Exploring the HOME AKL exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery

The HOME AKL exhibition was a real eye opener towards the various styles our Polynesian artists portray what they saw Auckland to be. It helped get our creative juices flowing in terms of how we could voice our opinions by giving them originality and a trademark that allowed us to claim our poems as our own.

Searching for inspiration through the Auckland Museum archives

The collections at the museum helped us to consider the content of what we were going to write. We sat there inspired by each art piece to help retell the story of their culture.

Working alongside Dr. Selina Tusitala Marsh

Working with Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh then helped us to sift through our ideas from both HOME AKL and the Museum Collections and craft them into a written performance piece. With all this done in a day it stood as a very beneficial stepping stone, giving us confidence to go away and work on pieces by ourselves created through the content we had been given and the skills we had been taught.

Observing people performing their crafted piece

The completion of the workshop then saw us begin our weekly writing workshops where our collective would meet up at Youthline Manukau to begin drafting our piece. These workshops were very productive and the pieces that were coming together continued to drop jaws and water eyes every week. We were visited again by Dr Marsh and later down the line by Luka Lesson. Selinas second visit saw us learning to get messages across without having to say it word for word, we were introduced to the art of Metaphors.

Luka Lesson Australian slam poetry champ

Luka Lesson acted as our performance coach, teaching us various ways to strengthen our performance through dynamics of speed, tone and emotion. Both guests were valuable contribution towards the final pieces we now have produced.

Grace Taylor- The amazing mentor who lead the journey

With Grace there to provide great ideas and advice was crucial towards making our stream successful and she continued to encourage us to better our pieces in all aspects possible. By the final week, Navigating Spaces had nine finished pieces ready to be filmed and presented for the Urbanlife exhibition.

Inspired by the story of our ancestors through tapa

We spent one session under the lights working alongside Peter Lee, our fantastic cameraman, in attempt to produce a piece that would represent our months’ worth of hard work. The filming process came across as daunting to some but the feeling that our message was finally going to be heard by the people of Auckland overwhelmed that fear by far.

Performing our final pieces (some bravely performed two!) for the community at Youthline Manukau, we are Navigating Spaces. The vibe gathered from the audience was very rewarding and the feedback inspired us to want to continue to write and fight for our message to be heard.


The crew enjoying the community showcase

“As we embark upon this journey, we know we are not alone.
We are Navigating Spaces, shining the light on what we call home.”

Arizona Leger

Te Korowai youth document their journey to a stronger future

The Museum’s pictorial collection and recent exhibition of wildlife photography was the basis for the young Māori men in the Te Korowai programme to explore what education means for those who have slipped through the gaps. The three participants – Chris K, Edmond A and Cory R – write about their experience with photographer Te Rawhitiroa Bosch and present a selection of their photos.

After an introduction day with Te Rawhitiroa, where we saw some of his photos and learnt how to use a camera, we went to the museum for an intro into the Urbanlife project. We were up in the library looking at the historical photos, and went into the freezer to check out photos from 100 years ago.

I thought I’d only see photos of old people, but instead I saw photos of gangs and other stuff. I felt privileged that we got to go where people don’t usually get to go and felt cool to be in the cool store.

I saw a mean underwater photo of a bear catching a fish in the water in the Wildlife exhibition. This made me wonder about how the photographers got so close to the animals.

Exploring Old Time Photos

Looking to the Past

Expert Session with Siliga

Laxin at the Museum

Observing closely

The school system failed me as I was excluded in the first year of college. I learnt to move on and try again. I reckon school is a good place to achieve greatness. Education in mainstream wasn’t the place for me, cos I’d rather go tag walls, which wasn’t good but in a way has ended me in a good place.

Now I’m self educated and I’ve learnt from my experience about how to use different colours, highlights etc, now it’s Art not Crime for me. I wanna be the NZ version of Banksy.

Day1 With Cameras

Artistic Eye

The Boys

Night Shoot

Flying High

The workshops were very helpful as I learnt how to operate a DSLR camera. I’m glad Te Rawhitiroa explained the process in a way that I understood. I’ve learnt how to take photos better, learnt about different perspectives and how to frame a shot, and I learnt how to slow the shutter speed and we painted with lights at night in Auckland City. I thought I wouldn’t enjoy this but after hanging out with Te Rawhitiroa it become tu meke!!

Professional Shoot

Reflecting on Experience

Te Korowai Urbanlife Crew

Painting with Light

Looking to the Future

‘No matter where you’re educated it might be school, home, course, prison or anywhere else – there is always a chance in life to achieve greatness. All you need is motivation and consistency and you may go far.’ Chris K

When exhibitions and projects collide – meaningful collaborations

In the early planning stages of our recent exhibition Identi-Tee, context and content were being eroded by time, space, and budget – that ever important element of good exhibition planning. Our desire to explain the process of screen printing in a meaningful way came in at the end of the ever-tightening timelines. That was until Urbanlife launched and, our Urbanlife and Identi-Tee worlds collided.

The Youthline Advisory Group were the first intake of Urbanlife participants to be introduced to the museum’s pictorial collections, to spark their thoughts about employment, both historically and in their own current experience. This was followed a week later by a hands on workshop at Artstation, where the youth participants set about turning their concepts and ideas into actual T-shirt statements about youth employment. The Urbanlife participants all a lot ‘cooler’ and younger then moi were tutored and mentored by Siliga David Setoga of Popohardwear, who’s well-known T-shirts featured in our Identi-Tee exhibition. Siliga is deeply passionate about his art practice and equally generous and graceful when tutoring our Urbanlife participants in the finer points of t-shirt printing.

“There are huge barriers that come up for youth looking for employment. There’s a huge issue around confidence, not being brave enough to give things a go, second-guessing and self-doubt, being susceptible to peer pressure. The distrust in institutions and wider society, because they’ve been counted out at the beginning, they are carrying the chip of being untrustworthy, slackers, so it’s just those bags that weigh them down before they even get started.” Siliga Setoga.

Screen printing at Artstation

Screen printing at Artstation

Screen printing at Artstation

Screen printing at Artstation

The creative process.

The creative process.

“Experiences, qualifications, references, chances, transport, support, pressure, distractions, skills, confidence….”

“I’m not them, see me as me and guide me away from poverty with a chance”

The following images provide a sneak peek into the Urbanlife project and go a little way in explaining how to set your own screens ‘Siliga style’. Check out this sequence to see how ideas become T-shirts.

Hopes T-shirt: ‘Will work for peanuts’

Victors T-shirt: ‘How AM I MEANt TO get experience if YOU won’t give me the chance?’

Uzair’s T-shirt: ‘The poor dream rich’

Liam’s T-shirt: ‘Aspire to do better… Nek Minit!’

“The Youth Advisory Group for Youthline is for 16-19 year olds, and was set up so that we can ask young people how they want us to work with them, targeting young people who were still at school, or sitting at home, or at university. In regards to the T-shirts they have really enjoyed being able to be creative and to make something of themselves. When we sat in the museum and looked at all the different books and newspaper articles, it was really interesting to see the young people years ago were doing the same thing as they are doing now, slightly different scale but very similar stuff.” Melodie McDonald-senior youth worker, Youthline.

Melodie’s T-shirt: ‘Old people retire so young people can start their journeys’

October 29, 2012

Posted by:

Niko Meredith

All, Learning, Urbanlife


IamGI give voice to their community through the Urbanlife Soundscape

Niko Meredith gives us an insight on IamGI’s journey as they explore both positive and negative aspects of housing redevelopment plans in their neighbourhood of Glen Innes, Auckland. GI youth have collaborated with Auckland Museum and music producer Anonymouz to create a unique soundscape that gives voice to the community from an urban youth perspective.

The Tamaki transformation project was supposed to the beginning of the urban renewal of the Tamaki area, and with it a promise of a brighter future for everyone. This optimism soon turned to anger following the discovery of the removal of state homes. Due to the lack of community consultation and the rapid ‘execution’ of the removals, the community took action.

GI community and supporters stand up and fight back.

GI is not for sale!

When we visited the Museum we found out about the urbanization of New Zealand. We learnt that increasing building costs led to the National government lowering state housing standards in the 1950’s. This eventually created the ‘ghetto communities’ (Glen Innes & South Auckland) which the government wanted to avoid. The pictorial archives of state housing in Glen Innes during the 1950s also illustrated that gentrification is not a new concept.

Practicing with the recording equipment before we explore the sounds and voices of GI.

Looking through the Museum’s pictorial archives.

Here’s a group shot of us during one of our visits to the Auckland Museum.

Armed with recording equipment we set out to capture the essence and soul of Glen Innes. Through our recordings we soon realized how close-knit our community is. Glen Innes is a place where people take pride in belonging to the community.

While interviewing local residents about the housing situation I was surprised at how ill informed and unaware they were of what is going on in their own backyards.

We revealed the diverse and contrasting opinions about the complicated housing situation in Glen Innes.

Thanks to the Meke Waka bus we got to head out together to explore our hood.

Exploring nature sounds at Point England Reserve.

Recording local residents in GI.

A few of the boys recording more sounds.

Everybody knows Taniwha Street!

The sad reality of many empty properties in Glen Innes. Houses are vanishing fast along with the families that once occupied these homes, only memories remain.

Gifted Hip Hop producer Matt Salapu (Anonymouz) took on the task of channeling our thoughts and opinions in a creative way through sound. During the workshop we were fortunate enough to have local guest speakers such as Thom Nepia (from the legendary Herbs) and Nelza and Outloc (from Hu Run It Productions). With the sounds we captured from the community we fine tuned the direction of the project and began piecing together the community’s voice through a youth perspective.

Special Thanks to the Museum staff and PACIFICA Women’s Tamaki branch who provided food during the workshops.

Our first day at the beautiful Ruapotaka Marae.


Breaking for lunch before we get back into it.

Matt introduces Thom Nepia from Herbs who gave us inspirational words of wisdom.

Discovering the technical side of recording sound.

Learning how to play pacific instruments with the master Ma’ara.

After months of hard work on the soundscape the project is finally taking form. This is one the most exciting projects I’ve been apart of. What’s even more exciting is this project will be showcased at the Museum capturing historical issues at a national and local level.

This has been a unique opportunity for us to have a voice and platform for social issues that affect communities facing change. The soundscape captures a snapshot of the impact of urban development in Tamaki. What I have learnt is that change is certain but we can influence the outcome.

Group shot at Ruapotaka Marae.