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Sing it Sister-15

SocietyNovember 14, 2017

Celebrating 10 years of LATE at Auckland Museum

Sing it Sister-15

2017 was the 10th year of Auckland Museum’s popular panel discussion series, LATE. The person behind LATE, Dina Jezdic, looks at the events’ role in giving the museum a modern, provocative voice.

The creation of ‘museum’ as a public space, open to anybody, is a very radical concept. Today it is something we take for granted and we feel completely entitled to. Prior to public museums, collections were solely accessible to individuals of wealth and aristocratic birth (mostly they were both). The collections were private by nature.

Now, the radical responsibility of museums lies in the prospect of healing. Healing from violence of colonisation and actively engaging in decolonising ourselves and our communities. Museums’ responsibilities also lie in the enrichment of individuals and communities by having honest and open dialogues. This is what LATE at Auckland Museum is.

LATE is collaborative, participatory and socially responsible, focused on highlighting and celebrating those that were, or continue to be marginalised. There is a great interest in understanding potential barriers that perpetuate discrimination and what we need to overcome them. Equally we are all fascinated by and love to celebrate those that have, in spite of these barriers, achieved enormous success. 

Organisations must interrogate and dismantle the systems upholding barriers and creating challenges for those that are not in positions of dominance and privilege. In other words, if you examine something, it becomes less scary. 

Geneva Alexander-Marsters and Jessie Moss on the LATE panel: Sing it Sister – Sexism in the Music Industry (Photo supplied)

I see the last 10 years of LATE as diversity work from inception. We have done some big things and we have also had some major flops. But it was the ones when we didn’t ‘nail it’ that provided us with a learning framework as much as the ones where we did. Traditionally, we devoted the month of July to a Matariki LATE where our focus was on the tikanga and mātauranga Māori. Today, museums of Aotearoa assume that their very existence is rooted in the values of mātauranga Māori and acknowledgement of the Treaty of Waitangi. But can that be true while simultaneously upholding hegemonic knowledge, and in majority of cases, ensuring it is truly dominating? Yes, and we are aware of the pitfalls. Our Auckland Museum framework, He Kōrahi Māori, supported by Teu le Vā, the museum’s Pacific dimension, are our guiding principles consistently embedded in our every thought and action.

In some ways the idea of ‘diversity’ is the cultural capital for museums and art galleries. Sadly, the concept has also become too prevalent and too present, which in turn has manifested in a self-blockade, too encompassing, its net cast too wide and the meaning of it, well, meaningless. By reaching its own saturation point it also simultaneously reached the status of a buzzword.

With this in mind, LATE often gives us the opportunity to position the word diversity within the framework of te reo Māori words like mana wāhine and takatāpui. The 2016 LATE: ‘He Mana He Wahine’ was definitely one of those ‘right on’ moments that will continue to shape and guide us on many levels. It showed us the power of the Auckland Museum brand to be critical and bring large scale conversation on ideas like women of colour, intersectionality, and feminism into the mainstream. ‘He Mana He Wahine’ also prepared us for the last LATE of this year, ‘Sing it Sister: Sexism in the Music Industry’. It’s important to state that we had a lot of help from our friends at Equalise My Vocals. Those mighty shoulders, those brave shoulders!

Rosanna Raymond, Courtney Sina Meredith, and Dr. Ngahuia Te Awekotuku at 2016 LATE ‘He Mana He Wahine’, (Photo supplied).

LATE wasn’t always a success story. Earlier on, we were heavily criticised for the lack of gender diversity and we took that criticism very seriously. I believe that it helped us to get to where we are today. We wanted to go even further and work towards inclusion and respect of all races, cultures and genders. I think we’re getting there. Our first LATE for 2018 will be in collaboration with Auckland Pride Festival and it is something I am very excited about.

The act of consultation in creating content for LATE is heavy. We need a lot of support if we are going to unpack this revitalisation quest of social justice. Our own world views are intertwined with unavoidable blind spots and we will have to be checked and re-check ourselves along the way. That is why partners and collaborators are something we genuinely need and want.  

We are also lucky to have had enormous help with the moderators that supported us over the years helping us to be critical in our examination: Russell Brown and Noelle McCarthy to name only a couple, and we have made some really important friends this year that we can’t wait to play with again: Leonie Hayden and Rose Matafeo.

There are many museum institutions that are looking at understanding their role in the activist movements. The question for them is both how to and whether to participate in these movements, as well as how to provide their audiences with agency to pursue multiple paths of interpretation. By uncovering and illuminating the under-known stories and narratives of those ‘othered’ by the dominant Western hegemony (including: people of colour, colonial, migrant, female, queer, political, indigenous, censored, erased, and marginalised) there is a way to shift and rewrite the past.

LATE is an invitation to re-look, re-imagine and actively engage in reshaping the present, which will guide our future. The panel discussion is a portal where we re-open the possibilities and actively participate in a new imagination of us as a collective, giving new meaning for all.

LATE has also progressed into the political sphere. Not in the sense that we rub shoulders with the politicians, but we do tackle issues that are very political: ‘Invisible Privilege’, ‘Home Sweet Home?’, ‘Allied Values’ and ‘Sexism in the Music Industry’ this year. Last year our topics included ‘He Mana He Wahine’, ‘From #Slactivism to Activism’ and ‘Taste of Inequality’. We no longer need to state that LATE is a ‘safe space for dangerous ideas’ – we now make space for ideas that shouldn’t be labeled ‘dangerous’. It’s equally about making space for the contribution of and diversity of perspectives.  Contributors and knowledge holders such as Georgina Beyer, Sir Lloyd Geering, Ella Henry, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Laura O’Connell Rapira, Rosanna Raymond, Marianne Elliott, Courtney Sina Meredith, David Farrier…too many to name!      

If we focus back on institutional and museum contexts, there is a responsibility to educate ourselves. Museums must embrace their role as a catalyst towards a shift which goes beyond just the intellectual. They must facilitate ideas and concepts that need unpacking about and alongside the communities we serve, by making space for these communities.

LATE at Auckland Museum acknowledges our  2017 partners: RNZ National, Massey University and Paperboy Magazine. Dina Jezdic is the audience development and engagement specialist at Auckland Museum.

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