Sean Mallon

Sean has been an unassuming and ever-supportive presence during my time in museums. I first came across his work as a plucky museums studies student where I was introduced to his take on contemporary collecting and promptly had my mind blown. His gentle reproach of museums' continued focus on portraying Pacific people through 'traditional' taonga was part of what spurred me into the research direction I've since undertaken. Every time I have felt pressured or squeezed by working in such an amorphous and confusing institution, a korero with Sean has always managed to inspire me and remind me why I pursued this path in the first place. What I've learned since I first read his work was that he is a tuakana to many others in the sector and that he is so generous with his time and knowledge. Fa'afetai Sean!

"TOA" Motorised toy car by 13 year old (April 2015)

"TOA" Motorised toy car by 13 year old (April 2015)

In five words, describe your role in the sector.

Curator Pacific Cultures Te Papa.

What is it about the sector that you love?

The opportunities and challenges of bringing the history and cultures of Pacific peoples to life through stories and objects, art and performance. 

What have been some challenges in your career?

I was 22 years old and a recent graduate when I started work in the museum. I was such a newbie. Initially, I was a little freaked out when people looked to me for answers or advice on Pacific related topics. I was asked quite a few times “What is the Pacific view on this…?” I felt like saying, “I don’t know…I can give you an Irish-Samoan view…” I mean, how do you even pretend to speak for the whole Pacific?

It took time for me to build confidence to respond to the many questions that came my way. It was important that I activated my networks within and outside the museum to help me do my job well. Tertiary education gave me a useful tool toolbox of skills but I had much to learn about museological tasks like cataloguing and object handling. I had to become an active researcher and keep up with reading, which is a constant challenge. I also had to grow up a bit and learn how to operate and be effective in the institutional and workplace culture.

What challenges can you see moving forward?

A constant challenge is to make the most of my time and the opportunities I am presented with, while I can…and for the benefit of Pacific communities and the museum.

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

I have found that people in the early stages of the careers bring new ideas and energy to the sector. Sometimes they force a refresh in the workplace and bring renewed attention to how we do our work. They can inspire those around them, and help lift everyone’s game.

I’d hope they’d bring with them an attitude and motivation to build on the past, celebrate it, critique it…and be prepared to leave a legacy of good quality work for the benefit of those who will follow behind them or engage with the sector later.

What is your spirit animal?

I filled in one of those internet spirit animal generator things, and it said I am a lion…my 14 year old son says I am a cow.