Paul Tapsell spoke at the Indigenous Arts in Transition Seminar on Wednesday, May 6, 2015. His talk was entitled “(Post)musings from the Edge: Being an Indigenous Curator in Pacific Paradise.”



Professor Paul Tapsell is the Chair of Māori Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Previously he has worked as Curator of the Rotorua Museum of Art & History (1990-1994) and as Director (Māori) at the Auckland Museum (2000-2008). Dr. Tapsell graduated from the University of Oxford in 1998 with a Ph.D. in Museum Ethnography. Of Te Arawa and Ngāti Raukawa descent, he has a background in anthropology, art history, museums and cultural heritage. In the 1990s, he was instrumental in the return of Pukaki, a nationally iconic and important taonga, from the Auckland Museum to his tribe in Rotorua. Dr. Tapsell’s current research interests include Māori identity in twenty-first century New Zealand, cultural heritage and museums, taonga trajectories in and beyond tribal contexts, Māori values within governance policy frameworks, genealogical mapping of tribal landscapes, and the potential intersection of customary and entrepreneurial leadership with today’s generation of indigenous youth. He is involved in tribal and national organizations. Dr. Taspell has published widely on Māori and indigenous topics and has spearheaded the Māori Maps project (www.maorimaps.com).

At the BGC, Dr. Tapsell will reflect on his distinguished career as an indigenous curator and scholar. In 1997, his first published paper, The Flight of Pareraututu, sought to bridge two cultures through metaphor, providing each with insights of the “Other” by way of taonga – tangible or intangible ancestrally performed objects – as they travel through genealogically ordered layers of time and space. Trajectories of these ancestral embodiments can be compared to the flight of the native New Zealand bird called a tui: stitching sky father to earth mother, weaving the living to the dead through a complex tapestry of kin-like identity across every inch of surrounding estates. Every once in a while a very special taonga took on a comet–like trajectory when gifted beyond the kin–horizon, perhaps only returning many generations later. On return they became more than an art-representation of an ancestor, they became that ancestor. The dog–skin cloak named Pareraututu is one such comet-like ancestress who ceremonially blazed home in 1993, an event in which Tapsell played a central role. Since his 1997 ontological investigation into taonga from a tribal perspective, major shifts have occurred in Maori Society that have challenged holding museums in terms of authority, voice, and exhibit co-production. This evolving relationship between museums and source communities underpins his Bard Graduate Center presentation and will again return our attention to Pareraututu, who continues to challenge museum orthodoxy by weaving her magical stitching of past with present, both in and beyond her home community of Te Arawa (for example, in the Ko Tawa Exhibition Tour of 2005-2008).