I had a great conversation with a tuakana today. She’s someone I’ve only just started working with but as is always the way with how these conversations go, in the short time I met with her, I was taught a lesson. We were talking about how hard it is to constantly fight for representation and recognition, whether that be as a woman or as Māori. It is tiring to have to remind others to think of the minority, and sometimes when the fight gets to be too much, it is easy to lose clarity and weaken your own argument. This is where the lesson comes in: she reminded me that sometimes there are different ways to fight, sometimes a fight can be fought with aroha. This relates to a point I have raised on Tusk before that we need to learn that challenging ideas and propositions don’t always come from hostile places. In conversation with our tuakana Bruce Phillips, we were talking about the place of Tusk and likeminded platforms in the sector and one thing he said really stuck with me: “More voices enable us to normalize a culture of constructive criticism.”
It is hard to hear kōrero that does not align with our own beliefs, but how else are we to ever be challenged or learn about other people’s experiences? Conversely, how else are we able to reaffirm what we already know? The idea of neutrality in publicly-funded spaces is a difficult one because it begs the question of whether it is appropriate for these places (that are meant to serve the public) to state an opinion, but I would counter that it is im possible to not have an opinion. I struggle also to think about what a neutral exhibition would have to say beyond representing what is already known and represented elsewhere. When thinking of museum visitors, I do not assume they are coming in as opinion-less, passive sponges, that is a didactic museum hangover that responsive museums have worked hard to overcome.
GLAM spaces need to be comfortable with challenging their visitors and their visitors need to become more comfortable with being challenged. In te ao Māori this happens all the time on marae: speakers are challenged, choice of waiata is challenged, every detail down to how we set the table is up for debate. Being challenged by my own whānau sowed the seeds for being able to stick up for myself in the wider world, it has made me more robust and able to deal with criticism, it has taught me when I need to speak and when I need to shut up (not that this learning curve ever ends because it is a bloody circle). There is no going back, and I don’t want to go back, so let’s make our sector braver, and stronger, by inviting debate and a sharing of minds.