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WWZD? In Conversation with Zara Stanhope

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 Zara Stanhope. Zara is the Principal Curator at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki as well as Adjunct Professor at AUT University. Before coming to Toi o Tāmaki Zara was the Deputy Director and Senior Curator at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, Director at Adam Art Gallery Wellington and Assitant Director at Monash University Museum of Art, Melboure. Read more for what would Zara do?

What kind of art gets you excited?

Art that I don’t understand

There are a lot of moving parts in a big institution like the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. For the everyday Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki visitor where can they find your own curatorial influences?

My influences are often not evident as they are varied and might only become clear in retrospect. Like most people I am inspired by the world, both the natural world and the civilisations we have created, and the people in it. I am very sensitive to visual stimuli, but I also love to devour non-fiction and fiction writing, movies and great music. In saying that, it’s often writers as well as artists who open new doors in my thinking

You recently completed your PhD on social art practice in public spaces at The Australian National University, Canberra. Have you noticed any qualities specific to New Zealand social practice that makes it unique comparatively?

Its not always appropriate to compare different places as the distinct contexts of each are a part of what socially-engaged artists are involved with. Social or participatory art has a longer and different history in Europe, so that many artists work with one group or certain communities for long periods. Saying that, New Zealand situations are often less densely populated in comparison with cases that I studied in Japan, Mexico and Europe and have different urban issues. One distinctive feature is that many artists working in participatory projects in New Zealand, regardless of their background, find certain Māori concepts relevant to their practices in terms of respect for the natural world and its interconnection with humanity.

Filmscapes followed the premier of Lisa Reihana’s In Pursuit of Venus (infected) and was Yang Fudong’s first New Zealand survey exhibition. It was definitely an important moment for Auckland audiences to see back to back film work of such high calibre. Do you see a series of ‘firsts’ coming for the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki?

The aim is for every exhibition we generate to be a first – to be distinctive, regardless of whether it is curated from our collection or focuses on one artist or a broader subject. Apart from exhibitions that we bring in from elsewhere my aim is for us to offer our audiences fresh art experiences that contribute toward the creation of our own cultures in this part of the world.

Space to Dream is ‘the first comprehensive exhibition of its kind to be generated in Australasia’. Why do you think it’s taken so long for this kind of show to develop and why now?

Space to Dream: Recent Art from South America is an extensive exhibition and accompanying visitor program, looking at art and culture from the late 1960s to now from the South American continent. We are able to undertake this project with integrity and with no fear of stereotyping other cultures as I worked with a Chilean curator Beatriz Bustos Oyanendal. We spent a great deal of time researching artists and working through ideas about how to give art from South America a framework or a face for New Zealand. Hence, the frame of Space to Dream, which posits the notion of artists who resist inequity and are change makers, who imagine new words and follow their dreams. It is also an investment in time and relations to create large international exhibitions which require the development of connections with artists, art museums, foundations and also funders. In addition, we were very keen for this to be an opportunity for artists to travel to New Zealand and create their own connections with other artists here.

RD_Fogo Cruzado_foto Wilton Montenegro 2 pp.jpg

Ronald Durate, Fogo Cruzado (Crossfire), (still), 2002, courtesy of the artist, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The inclusion of artists who have since passed away in Space to Dream seems to highlight the length of time in which New Zealand art institutions and audiences have bypassed South American practices, what should we be looking out for when the exhibition opens on May 7?

When we talked with contemporary artists in South America it was clear that certain artists of previous generations were important for their work. Hence, we have included the work of key figures such as Paulo Bruscky, Lygia Clark, Helio Oticica, Antonio Manuel, Leon Ferrari , Lotty Rosenfeld, CADA and Mira Schendel, for example for this reason, to introduce their ideas as formative for the art of this region. However, you will find the works of different generations mixed together in the exhibition, just as artists from different countries appear in proximity, in order to suggest the dynamic complexity of life in this part of the world.

I asked Emma Ng (Curator of Enjoy Public Art Gallery, Wellington) in a recent interview about her thoughts on framing New Zealand art practices within this idea of the ‘Asia Pacific’. Space to Dream makes me think that you might be more interested in notion of the ‘Pacific Rim’. Are these things you think about within you exhibition making?

When I came to Auckland I thought long and hard about our location in the world and the region, and how this sense of place may also align with or be in contrast to how we think about who we are. For me there are no names that neatly define our context. However, I think the global south as a term has been useful in differentiating a broader social context within a geographic zone. It is empowering as it situates us within the energies of a cross-cultural context and people with which we need to become much more engaged. At the Gallery we want to start opening up ourselves and our communities to our neighbours in Australaisa, the Asia Pacific, the Pacific Rim and beyond. Only by experiencing other cultures can we become more cosmopolitan, in the sense of knowing and understanding each other better.

Lastly any words of advice for any young curators?

There are young curators interested in many different art fields but across those interests all of us constantly need to keep asking questions and interrogating our own practices.

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