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WWSD? In Conversation with Samantha McKegg

WW..D? Is an interview segment where we get to know awesome people that are a part of the creative community in New Zealand.

This week we spoke to Samantha McKegg. Samantha is a writer, reviewer and critic based in Dunedin. Samantha has a column in the Otago Daily Times as well as doing freelance writing for various galleries and publications. Read more for what would Samantha do?

Some people might say that being Dunedin based would limit your ability to comment on New Zealand’s sometimes Auckland Centric arts landscape. How do you find it?

I think that statement could be true of someone who lived in Auckland – I mean someone in South Auckland might have a very different view of the NZ art scene versus someone base in the CBD. But yes, I probably do have a skewed view from down here; it is always tempting to remain short-sighted. The NZ art scene, however, is pretty well networked and it can be easy to keep yourself in the loop with just a little bit of time dedicated to trawling Facebook and online arts news.

In saying that, its not like Dunedin is completely isolated. There is a steady stream of visiting artists. Between the dealer galleries, Blue Oyster, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and ever-evolving artist-run spaces, the city seems to hit every art demographic. AND then there is a the local scene that shouldn’t be overlooked by the rest of New Zealand…

Just like artists many writers have an unspoken ethos which determines what you write and why. What is yours?

I love stories, and I love finding out as much as I can about something – like I want to be able to ask lots of questions. If something is shallow or vapid then I’m just not interested. I can’t and won’t write about something if there is nothing there and nothing to say.

You review for the Otago Daily Times. Is this audience receptive to arts criticism and discourse? 

I think so, it is a broader audience than art specific publications, but it definitely has a place there and people do read it. The column is split between my self and two others and we alternate throughout the month. They are only short-reviews but you do try to remain critical and make a point. The best thing about them is they have a good immediacy – they are always published while the show is still running, so I do have people approach me about what has been written – sometimes its artists, sometimes the audience. But I’m sure there are a lot of people who just don’t care, but you get that anywhere. I think it is great the ODT will just continue to support the arts by publishing reviews.

Your honours thesis focused on Samoan artist Yuki Kihara. Why her?

In 2013 (the year I completed my honours), the University of Otago hosted a symposium on Yuki, her mid-career survey exhibition ‘Undressing the Pacific’ opened at the Hocken Library, and her photo series Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? was first exhibited at Milford Galleries Dunedin. I was presented with the opportunity not only to focus my honours thesis on and artist who’s work I personally appreciate but I was also able to engage in academic discourse in real-time and directly respond to new works and her back catalogue.

Writing on an ethnic group that is not your own can be difficult, did you find any challenges in exploring her practice?

I think you owe it to any artist that you write about to be properly informed, but it was a lot of work initially writing about Yuki as her work is so delicately nuanced. I spent a lot of time researching Samoan and Pacific Island history and society as well as a lot of European history, art history and literature. But Yuki is an amazing artist to write about because she really actively engages with her audience, critics and academics about her art practice.

Lastly do you have any words of advice for any young budding writers?

Just keep writing. Start small: offer to write bios for your artist friends and blurbs on their work, write texts or blog posts for smaller galleries and keep taking opportunities as they come, its good to let people know that you are willing and able. Once you build up your confidence and your writing portfolio you can start looking into websites, magazine or journals that might be looking for articles or reviews.

But, I’m still learning and still an ‘aspiring’ writer, I’m always trying to work on my writing – !


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