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Why We Collect Wellington

Why We Collect Wellington

By Ian Wards

Have you seen the images of two of our recent acquisitions on the shipping containers outside Wellington Museum?

There’s a smashed hard drive donated by investigative journalist Nicky Hager and a detail from the artwork Te Whanganui-a-Tara by Xoë Hall. Wellington Museum is not just a museum of old things, we actively collect things that tell the stories of the people of Pōneke.

Wellington Museum, with images of Nicky Hager’s broken hard drive and a detail of Xoë Hall’s artwork Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

These objects reflect different aspects of Wellington’s rich recent history. The hard drive was hit 213 times by a police inspector after a High Court decision that a raid on his home by police in 2014 had been illegal. Police copied Hager’s files onto the hard drive but didn’t want him to access other content on it, so in a fit of pique, made a mess of it before handing it back to the surprised and bemused journalist.

Wellington Museum commissioned Xoë Hall to paint the artwork Te Whanganui-a-Tara to visualise the creative energy of Wellington, the atua Māori and natural forces that energise our place. Commissioning this artwork also gave us an opportunity to preserve something of the cityscape which Xoë has helped create. Her distinctive mural artworks which cloak our city might not survive the decades, as weather, vandalism and building changes see them slowly disappear.

Wellington Museum, in the Bond Store on the waterfront, is one of the city’s oldest buildings and was once a maritime museum. We still have a strong maritime collection, but in recent years we have actively collected Wellington things that express the creativity and innovation of Pōneke.  I argue that in the case of Wellington, its golden age was the period after 1990 when the vibe around the Absolutely Positively Wellington campaign saw the city reinvigorated and transformed into the creative capital it still is. We collect things that express this along with things from all periods in our history.

The We Collect display at Wellington Museum with the Te Whanganui-a-Tara by Xoë Hall in the background.

Next time you visit, have a look at our display of recently acquired things. Under the theme We Collect Wellington, you’ll see the hard drive, an umbrella donated by Dame Catherine Healy – a symbol of visibility for sex workers, the unwieldy Poly 1 computer made by the staff and students of Wellington Polytechnic in 1981 and a hockey stick, teddy bear and towelling sunhat donated by the Manning family of Tawa.

Our challenge is to reflect the diversity and richness of Wellington’s social history, but we can’t do this alone. We’re collecting for future generations to ponder and enjoy. So, if you have things that are interesting or insightful, with poignant or funny stories associated with them, get in touch with us to see if they might be right for Wellington Museum’s collections.

We’ll be changing the We Collect Wellington display in a couple of months, so come and have a look at the current objects while you can. The next display is under wraps, but I can say it will be a real Buzz.

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Te Whanganui-a-Tara by Xoë Hall

Te Whanganui-a-Tara by Xoë Hall

By Ian Wards

Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 2021. Acrylic on board, Xoë Hall (Ngāi Tahu)

Wellington Museum asked Xoë Hall to create Te Whanganui-a-Tara artwork for our new ground-floor exhibition (of the same name) – Te Whanganui-a-Tara. This family-friendly exhibition explores the natural and cultural landscapes of Wellington.

Xoë Hall (Kāi Tahu) is a painter based in the Wellington region, who specialises in mural work. Mural work, by its very nature, is temporary, making it a challenging medium for museums to collect. It may be that few of Xoë’s murals survive in the long-term – due to exposure to weather and light, vandalism, building construction and destruction.

Having Xoë paint this artwork allowed Wellington Museum to preserve a popular part of Wellington’s current cityscape for present and future generations to enjoy.

And so it begins. Xoë sketches the outline of the artwork based on her concept drawing to the left.

Wellington Museum’s curators suggested Xoë create a painting that formed a visual personification of the whenua, moana, awa, maunga, hau and ngahere of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington). The idea being that this would form a visual pepeha of this place.

Xoë was also asked to create the artwork in a way that would inspire rangatahi to respect and honour the environment, but give hope and courage for the environmental challenges they face in the future.

Of the creative process, Xoë says:

“As I was drawing I was trying to channel the energy of Pōneke city, wrapped up in the excitement of the wild wind sweeping over the whenua – which embraces the action but does not get swept away.

The atua that revealed themselve’s within the drawing are Papatūānuku – Earth Mother, symbolising the whenua; Tāwhirimātea – atua of wind and storms; and Hineraukatauri – atua wahine of Māori musical instruments, who is often personified as the case moth. We also have a guest appearance from Mahuika, atua of fire.

These atua come together to form a kaitiaki hybrid of the elements and creative vibes of Te Whanganui-a-Tara, working in unison.”

The stars of night can be seen reflected in the waters of the harbour, with the ridges of hills found in the form of Papatūānuku.

A very pregnant Xoë Hall adding the final brush strokes to her artwork.

Many other symbolic elements, or ‘easter eggs’ as Xoë calls them, can be found in the artwork.

The double headed hei tiki – symbolising Papatūānuku as the infinite mother of tangata whenua.
The hand of Mahuika, with unwavering flames – representing resilience to forceful winds.
Leather jacket sleeves – this fashionable one-off has a sleeve decorated with the colours of the earth below, and the other sleeve with the rolling city hills above.
Taniwha hybrid chest – a common theme in Xoë’s work, representing inner strength.
Futuristic sunglasses – another common theme in Xoë’s work symbolising a bright future.
The upper hand touching Tāwhirimātea's eye – a connection between whenua and the eye of the storm.
The patterns coming from Tāwhirimātea's mouth are both shooting ferns symbolising growth and gusts of wind keeping things fresh and moving.
Taniwha hybrid chest – a common theme in Xoë’s work, representing inner strength.
Te Whanganui-a-Tara on display at Wellington Museum.

Space Place shines a light on Puanga and Matariki

Space Place shines a light on Puanga and Matariki

By Colin Smillie, Experience Wellington’s Public Programmes Manager Science. 

Visit the Space Place anytime to find out more about matauranga Maori and our place in the cosmos.

At five o’clock on a cold and still morning last year, I joined 500 members of the public for a unique New Zealand experience as we gathered to share kai on Aotearoa’s first public holiday to celebrate Matariki. A karakia was given, the stars rose above the hills and images of loved ones who had passed away in the previous year were displayed. 

As a science communicator, I know that the Matariki star cluster, visible around the world, holds significance in many different cultures, but it’s hard to put into words how moving it was to watch the sunrise on the Māori New Year. It felt like a celebration that excluded nobody and included everyone. 

Matariki sits relatively near the Earth, just 444 or so light-years away, so it’s the most easily seen star cluster in our skies. Ancient Greeks named it the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, because they could see seven stars with the naked eye. In Japan, it’s known as Subaru, meaning ‘unite’. Here in Aotearoa, Māori astronomers see nine stars: Te Iwa o Matariki, the nine stars of Matariki. 

This important star cluster highlights our close connections to nature, encouraging us to remember the past, celebrate the present, and look towards the future. Across Aotearoa New Zealand iwi, hapū, and whānau tell different pūrākau, or stories, connected with Matariki. In Wellington, at Space Place Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi, we celebrate Matariki and Puanga by sharing these stories with our wider community. 

The public holiday is centred around the Matariki star cluster appearing in the early morning sky, but the star Puanga is also used as the marker for the beginning of the Māori New Year. This is because Puanga, or Rigel the brightest star in the constellation known as Orion, rises earlier and higher in the sky than Matariki, so is more visible in some parts of the country before the rising of the sun. 

In Porirua, Ngāti Toa iwi sees Matariki much more easily than in Whanganui-a-Tara, as the hills surrounding Wellington tend to block the view of the star cluster. On the west coast of the North Island, Taranaki Whānui use Puanga as the marker for the start of the New Year. When Puanga rises in the morning sky above Taranaki Maunga, this is the signal for new planting. In Ōtepoti Dunedin, Kāi Tahu celebrates both Puaka (Puanga) and Matariki because being at a lower latitude means Matariki is a little too low on the horizon to be easily seen behind the city’s many hills. 

To many iwi, the setting of Matariki in the evening sky signals the beginning of the harvest season. The rising again in the pre-dawn sky several weeks later, aligning with the moon in its third phase, signals the time to start planting and preparing for the coming year. That’s when communities gather to give thanks for the earth’s abundance, to reflect upon the year that has gone, and to share hopes and aspirations for the year ahead. It is a reminder of the importance of living in harmony with nature and a time to commemorate those who have died in the previous year. 

If you want to learn more about Puanga and Matariki and the significance of the season, join us next week at Space Place Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi or visit anytime to find out more about mātauranga Māori and our place in the cosmos. 

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