Chanel Clarke

Chanel is someone who has always had a presence in my (Matariki) time in the sector, but due to time and space, I've only ever met her a handful of times. She was first mentioned to me during my masters study and has remained a helpful email away ever since. Hers is some of the most interesting research I've had the opportunity to hear and am ever grateful to have attended the Indigenous Photographic Histories Symposium where she dropped the mic so hard about the material culture that surrounded Māori delegations to Queen Victoria. With her whakaaro below, Chanel touches on some concerns I have also had about the value of the sector for people who have pressing issues. But, as is the way with so many of our tuakana, Chanel remains optimistic. So we take that lesson, and thank you for it. Ngā mihi nunui Chanel!

In five words, describe your role in the sector. 

Idealistic glass-half-full provocateur.

What is it about the sector that you love?

Isn’t it all about getting into those behind the scenes dusty basements that the public never get to see and where supposedly all the good stuff is?

What have been some challenges in your career?

Never finding the time to get behind the scenes and into the collections where the good stuff is!  We’ve become so bureaucratic as organisations that finding a Curator in a storeroom these days is like a Tui advertisement - yeah right! 

Juggling family, work and study has been a constant during my career too. Unfortunately being Māori and a woman has brought challenges as well. I like to think that it was a sign of the times, in terms of gender and racial stereotyping (picture radical mad Māori woman here), and that someone had to blaze the trail for those coming after so that such a thing would be unheard of today. Unfortunately though for every step forward those individual institutions make and the sector as a whole we still seem to take two or three steps backward and inequalities still exist on both of these fronts.   

What challenges can you see moving forward?

Becoming irrelevant if we haven’t already. My roots are in a very small settlement that in times past prospered and was considered the food bowl of the north. Unfortunately this community is now one of the most depressed in the country topping the charts across all socio-economic and health indicators for Māori. 

While as a museum we could pat ourselves on the back for performing outreach work at the tribal festival and reconnecting whānau with their museum held taonga, I do wonder what the point of it all is when the biggest question on the minds of our rangatahi is not wow this taonga belonged to Chief so and so but where is the after party at!  We might think we have contributed to the overall health and cultural well-being of a community but let’s not kid ourselves here our communities are suffering from systemic issues that will take more than a few taonga transported out for a day or a weekend to fix. 

It concerns me too that as Māori we have lost, to an extent, the intergenerational transfer of knowledge and learning. As museums do we have a role to play in this? Is it even our job to fix the ills of society? One thing I know for sure is that it will take out of the box thinking and a genuine commitment to the long term aspirations of iwi rather than one hit wonders. But I’ll leave that thinking to you young guns!

What do you think people in the early stages of their careers can offer the sector?

Everyone has said fresh eyes and new perspectives to which I would agree.  However, I also believe that certainly taking the time to listen, absorb and learn while you are at the beginning of your career is really important.  Curators are notorious for staying in the same role until their deathbed so it’s likely that new idea you think you have has been done before so don’t dismiss the experience of those who have trodden a well-worn path before you.  The best piece of advice I got from a colleague was to pick your battles and knowing when and how to influence when you think that idea you have might just be on the money! 

What is your spirit animal?

Kererū/Kūkupa - who according to Wikipedia will often ascend slowly before making impressively steep parabolic dives yep that’s me line your ducks up and then in for the kill!


Chanel Clarke

Curator Māori, Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Jan 2017