This is the first Ōku Kōwhiri – My Choice we’ve had for a while and we’re pleased that local maker Frances Stachl (Ngāpuhi) has taken up the mantle for this autumn edition. In this online exhibition series a member of our community is invited to browse our online collection and select six of their favourite artworks. We thank Frances for her thoughtful selection of works and for also opening up a conversation that raises important questions of what the collection contains historically and what we want it to become in the future.

autumn 2024: frances stachl The Sarjeant collection comprises over 8,300 items. Of that 8,300 an estimate is that less than 550 of the items are by Māori makers, see a breakdown of these figures below.[i] This isn’t definitive – not everyone declares, or should be required to declare, their iwi/hapu affiliation. Although the gallery may be working on this, iwi/hapu affiliation does not previously appear to have been considered by the institution as a way of recording acquisitions.

Trying to prioritise six works from a slim selection is intimidating. As a Māori maker, I feel accountable to other Māori for any choices I make. If I choose not to do it because it is ‘too hard’, then I have a sense that I am not honouring ringatoi Māori who have work in the collection. If the collection of Māori works was larger, choosing would be a different process. Instead, what I am confronted with is a sense of absence. It drives home how little emphasis has been given to Māori visual culture[ii] within the parameters of the collection policy.

I have chosen works from ringatoi Māori that resonate with me. I think whakapapa informs how we see things, and the wāhine in my whānau have been/are influential in shaping my own ideas as a maker. As a Māori viewer I am looking for connections, be they direct whakapapa or whakapapa in a broader sense of the word. Both my mother, Gabrielle Belz, and my sister, Erna/Ani Stachl, have works I love in the collection. I would strongly advocate accessing these and other Māori works via the collection.

See Frances’ selections on our Explore the Collection ‘My Choice Exhibition Series’ highlight here.

[i] The Sarjeant states on its website that the gallery ‘holds a collection of more than 8,000 items of national and international significance, spanning four centuries of European and New Zealand art history.’ This collection is made up of artworks (around 6240 items) and archival material (remainder). Based on the total number of items (8300) and the 547 items by known Māori makers, this means 6.59% of the whole collection is by Māori makers/producers. If I calculate the percentage from the items designated as ‘artworks’ (6240) this means 8.76% of the artwork in the collection is by Māori makers/producers. This percentage could arguably be altered by only looking at works by ‘New Zealand artists’ (5187) raising the percentage of Māori makers to 10.5%. Tangata Whenua make up 17.3% (904,100) of the total population of Aotearoa (Stats NZ, as at June 2023). Regardless of which figure one uses, a Māori representation of 8.76% and 10.5% is not in line with the current population. It is also currently unclear how many of the artists in the Māori collection are Mana Whenua to Whanganui. [ii] I’m using the term ‘Visual culture’ rather than ‘art’ (which is culturally bounded and limiting) as proposed by Robert Jahnke in ‘Māori Visual culture on the run’ (2006).

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