How does a controversy start and why do art galleries often become the focal point of them? Examining significant instances of controversy from The Dowse’s history and further afield, panellists Desna Whaanga-Schollum, Vera Mey, Tim Walker and facilitator Tina Barton unpack what it takes to navigate controversy beyond scandal and outrage toward something productive and valuable.

As Director of The Dowse for a decade (1998 – 2008), Tim Walker steered the museum into bold new territory, including Respect – Hip Hop Aotearoa (2003), which showcased urban art culture and contained “more 'f' bombs than Gordon Ramsay". Despite facing criticism for its inclusion of graffiti, Respect went on to achieve skyrocketing visitor numbers and become one of The Dowse’s most popular exhibitions, even morphing into a biannual hip hop festival in Lower Hutt.

In 2012 Vera Mey co-curated the exhibition In Spite of Ourselves: Approaching Documentary at The Dowse. This exhibition included Sophia Al-Maria’s work, For Your Eyes Only and made headlines for soliciting a "man ban" – placing the artwork (which depicted Muslim women without their headscarves) off-limits to male visitors.

In December 2020, Desna Whaanga-Schollum co-created Tono: An invitation to clear, reconnect and restore at Artspace Aotearoa, alongside Artspace Manu Taiko, Tūi Ranapiri-Ransfield . The waerea implemented tikanga Māori in response to issues of recent cultural violence within the contemporary art community.

With this line-up of astute panellists, we’ll peel back divisive framing, polarising headlines and hearsay to uncover the issues that lie at the heart of these moments of ideological rupture.

This programme is part of A Speaker Series, 50 Years of Remarkable Ideas, presented by The Dowse Foundation – where we celebrate and reflect on a jam-packed five decades of discussion, exploration and provocation at The Dowse Art Museum.


Desna Whaanga-Schollum (M.Sci-Comm. B.Design) Iwi: Rongomaiwahine, Kahungunu, Pāhauwera. Hapū: Ngāi Tahu Matawhaiti. Currently resident in her iwi territories on the East Coast of Aotearoa, DWS collaborates with a wide variety of communities, scientists, public servants and business professionals, artists and academics. An Ambassador for Landscape Foundation NZ, Desna is actively involved in indigenous discourse, working towards re-inscribing ancestral narratives in the cultural landscape, acknowledging respect for place, and reciprocal relationships with place. Her governance roles include: Chair, Ngā Aho Māori Design Professionals; Chair, Artspace Aotearoa; Trustee, Arts Foundation NZ; Board Member, Auckland Urban Design Panel.

Vera Mey is a PhD candidate in History of Art & Archaeology at SOAS, University of London where she researches ideas of critical regionalism in Southeast Asian art during the Cold War era. She has worked as a contemporary art curator in institutions including ST PAUL St Gallery, AUT University and NTU Centre for Contemporary Art. She has independently curated exhibitions in Aotearoa, Bangkok, Paris, Phnom Penh, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo, including 2017’s SUNSHOWER: Contemporary art from Southeast Asia 1980s to now at the Mori Art Museum and National Art Centre Tokyo, which was the largest survey of Southeast Asian artists exhibited to date.

Tim Walker is an Auckland-based arts & culture consultant. He spent three decades in the gallery and museum sector - as Fine Arts Curator at Waikato Museum, in Wellington as Senior Art Curator at National Art Gallery/Te Papa and Director of TheNewDowse, and as Director of Delivery at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland Museum.


  • Free


  • Sat 07 Aug


  • 11:00 am


  • 45 Laings Road
  • Lower Hutt, Pōneke Wellington