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Curating change with a Kupe Leadership Scholarship

Ane Tonga started curating while she was a student at Elam School of Fine Arts. In her role as a Tuakana mentor at the University of Auckland, she put together her first exhibition to showcase the art of Māori and Pacific students at the George Fraser Gallery and the former Art Station in Ponsonby.

The artist, writer and curator has filled many roles since then, including her recent return to the University as a postgraduate student and Kupe Leadership Scholar, to undertake a Master of Arts majoring in Art History. Her thesis will examine Pacific curatorial practice in New Zealand between 1989 and 2019, a research area that has received very little critical attention.

Part of her new role includes mentoring from Dr Jenny Harper MNZM, an activity attached to her Kupe Leadership Scholarship. Ane was one of just 14 students awarded the prestigious scholarship this year, worth around $22,000.

“To have an eminent expert in the field, such as Jenny, mentor me is an outstanding opportunity,” says Ane. “It demystifies the career process in terms of developing from a curator into a director. Jenny’s extensive career in this field, most recently as the director of the Christchurch Art Gallery, has allowed me to envisage and plan my path ahead.”

Ane, who has curated many shows since her early days as an art student, recently took park in The Room project held at Objectspace in Auckland. Ane’s contribution involved reconstructing Ani O’Neill’s installation Promise Me/Trust Me, which was the first time the work had been seen since its display in 1993 as part of O’Neill’s end of year Elam show. It displayed an array of her grandmother’s immaculately woven Cook Islands pare (hats) made from floristry ribbon.

The installation’s reprisal was an auspicious moment – a homecoming of sorts – for O’Neill, who was born and raised in Ponsonby and Grey Lynn, and has been living between Rarotonga and Auckland. The homecoming extended more widely to the local Cook Islands and Pacific Island communities.

“Auckland’s first Pacific community was not based in South Auckland but in the central Auckland suburbs of Grey Lynn, Ponsonby, Freemans Bay and Parnell,” says Ane. “Extensive gentrification over the last two decades has pushed many Pacific families out.”

Their presence was welcomed back via the shelving built along the walls where spaces had been dedicated for the Mamas to display their pare, alongside those belonging to Ani O’Neill’s grandmother, Nana Pareu.

In Wellington, Ane recently extended curatorial boundaries with Edith Amituanai: Double Take, a survey exhibition of work by artist Edith Amituanai MNZM, held at the Adam Art Gallery, making Edith the first Pacific woman artist to hold a solo show there. She also provided the lead essay in the accompanying publication that offers the first sustained account of Edith’s practice.

For her master’s thesis examining the history of Pacific curating from 1989 to 2019, Ane intends to focus on those shows that she says “contributed to paradigm shifts that have shaped our current understandings of Pacific art through its curation within museums and art galleries.”

“I’m interested in the exhibitions during this period that demonstrated a fundamental change in approach to the underlying assumptions held about the Pacific and Aotearoa’s position as part of the Pacific region,” she says.

Ane is grateful to her postgraduate supervisor who originally told her about the Kupe Leadership Scholarships, and encouraged her to apply.

Now half way through her study, Ane says the Kupe Leadership Programme has been inspiring and definitely given her confidence.

“Spending time during the year with my colleagues on the leadership programme is empowering. I’m meeting a range of people that I might not have otherwise met,” she says. “Overall I’m more knowledgeable than before and know that I will enter the workforce equipped with the invaluable leadership skills I’ve gained as a Kupe scholar.”

Named after the legendary explorer Kupe, the scholarships are the vision of Canadian philanthropist and Rhodes Scholar John McCall MacBain, who through the McCall MacBain Foundation, has invested millions in people and ideas in order to build a better world.

What makes the Kupe Scholarships unique is that alongside the $22,000 stipend, they are accompanied by a year-long leadership development programme, and a personal mentor connected to the scholar’s area of interest.

Applications for the 2020 Kupe Leadership Scholarships close on Friday 23 August 2019.
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