60 Makers of New Zealand: 1930-1990: is at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery from 24 November 2011 to 12 February 2012. It was curated by Brian Easton.
Keywords: Literature and Culture; Political Economy & History;
Choosing 60 New Zealanders to reflect the development of New Zealand was not easy, says Dr Brian, Easton Curator of the New Zealand Portrait Galleries ‘Makers of New Zealand: 1930-1960′, Of course economics development was an important part of the story, which starts with the Great Depression and goes through the post-depression and post-war booms to the Rogernomics stagnation. But more than that happened. opportunities for Maori and women opened up, the Pasifika peoples arrived, the significance of Britain diminished, we adopted a nuclear free foreign policy, the arts flourished and we came surer of our national identity, top sport drifted towards professionalism. How to capture that all?
Obviously there are people you cant just leave out – like Ed Hillary, politicians, industrialists and farm leaders. But many of the portraits represent important phenomenon. How to represent the extraordinary flourishing of music in the period – especially so many international class opera singers. ‘I chose a teacher Sister Mary Leo who trained three operatic dames’. What about the media which had transformative role? Ian Cross was a newspaper reporter, television commentator, magazine editor and the first chairman the Broadcasting Corporation.
‘I wanted to reach out. The New Zealand Portrait Gallery is in the heart of Wellington, but I did not want just to represent bureaucrats and politicians. Sure there are key civil servants there like Clarence Beeby, who founded the modern education system, and Henry Lang, secretary of the Treasury, the model public servant who has a park named after him next to the Beehive. Foreign policy is represented by Alistair McIntosh, the founder of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also Elsie Locke, who represents all those ordinary citizens who worked for peace, and who wrote a book about them Peace People.’
There has been an enormous change to the Maori and race relations. How to represent that? Sir Apirana Ngata was an obvious choice but then there was Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana who represented another strand of Maori development. There are a whole series of Maori illustrating the development , but ‘I realised there is also the race relations aspect. So there is Dame Joan Metge and Ranginui Walker, two of the most important interpreters of developments.’ By a nice coincidence the two are next to one another.’
How to handle the growing Pasifka dimension of New Zealand life?They were still just arriving in 1990, but New Zealand had been long involved in the Pacific before. ‘Sometimes our record was not ideal, but Tupua Tamasese Mea’ole, who led the Samoan independence movement, chose to forgive us – it seems New Zealand police shot his brother in the back – and that path of reconciliation made it possible to for the Pasifika people to be welcomed here’. Right next to him is Sir Guy Powles who was the New Zealander who worked through Samoan independence with him.
There are a lot of portraits of contributors to ‘high’ culture which has so much develop our sense of identity, but a younger woman asked about pop music. ‘She was right, and the show should be reaching out to the likes of her, even those if she was not born after 1990.’ So there is Howard Morrison. ‘One can easily overlook that popular arts ware also involved in our political life.’ As Morrison’s ‘My Old Man’s an All Black’ reminds us, ‘There aint no horis in the scrum’ in 1960.
Nor is intellectual life left out with portraits of Lloyd Geering, Keith Sinclair and Bill Sutch.
The representation of ‘women’s liberation’ proved a bit of a problem, because in the period they had a lower public profile; most were still anchored in the home – even those who worked in the paid labour force were still on domestic duties. So there are classic feminists like Sonja Davies and Sandra Coney, but also Dame Alison Holst who is a part of the cooking/eating revolution. There is also a sly reference to Sir James Wattie, one of the industrialists in the show , pointing out that his processing of foods made it easier for women in the kitchen. Another sly reference is to Fred Allen. ‘Rugby afficiados tell me he is the best example of someone who shaped rugby over the period, and he is also there to remind us that then rugby was still an amateur sport. ‘But also mentioned is that he had his own women’sa fashion line.’
‘Although initially I simply chose people, I found myself telling a story about the times, an especially useful exercise given that I am writing a history of New Zealand.’ It is not necessarily an entirely upbeat story. It begins with Michael Joseph Savage and Gordon Coates politicians who founded the main streams of our political life, and Ngata. It ends with Sir Robert Muldoon and Sir Roger Douglas, who leave the visitor more puzzled about where in 1990 New Zealand was going. But next to them are Sandra Coney and Sir Edward Durie, who as chairman of the Waitangi Tribunal shaped Maori development and race relations. So it has not all been ‘downhill’.