It is our belief here at Tusk that Tryphena is one of the hardest working people in the sector. Alongside her everyday mahi at MTG Hawkes Bay, she is also the Kaitiaki Representative on the Museums Aotearoa board. Every year Tryphena manages to organise hui for Kāhui Kaitiaki almost single-handedly, this year being no exception. The year I (Matariki) met her, we were both very hapū and I assisted in the reinvigoration of the Kaitiaki network, and then, as pregnant people do, shuffled off to nurse my baby. Tryphena did the same but also ensure that the hui went off without a hitch. Amazing. Her role is an integral part to ensuring that Māori voices are heard in a sector where Māori are underrepresented. We're amazed that Tryphena has managed to find the time to fill this in and we thank her endlessly! YOLO indeed.
In five words, describe your role in the sector.
Dreamer Thinker Talker Doer. Kaiwhakawhanaungatanga.
What is it about the sector that you love?
There aren’t many days that I don’t feel a little bit excited to be doing what I do. To be surrounded by incredible collections, to work alongside people in my community and to share their stories.
As a sector, I think we’ve got some paradigm shifts to make, but there are strong leaders, working to keep us moving in the right direction and good people - the museum professionals I know work as much for their love of art, culture, and history as they do to pay the bills – and I really love being part of that community.
What have been some challenges in your career?
A major personal career challenge was stepping out of the sector for a few years. My pēpi came along and I spent the best part of a decade at home with them. When I was ready to get back into it, there weren’t any museum jobs here in Hawke’s Bay so I re-trained as an early childhood teacher, teaching and later lecturing at Te Aho a Maui/Eastern Institute of Technology. I volunteered at the HB Museum and Art Gallery when I could and carried out a couple of visitor and market research projects there. When a new role was established for a Kaitiaki Taonga Māori, I raced in! Having been out of the sector for such a long time, I felt as though I was playing catch up for a while but think I’m nearly there.
Like Dion, I started off FOH at Te Papa. Many of the staff who were there when I started have continued to awhi me throughout my career and I really appreciate those amazing tuakana and the work they do. Being a voice for Māori in a museum has had some challenges – I place high expectations on myself to work hard for the community and with my people. Māori have been through some tough times in our relationship with museums, but have really hung in there because of the strong connections to our taonga. Over the last decade, formalised roles for Māori in Aotearoa’s museums and galleries have increased. Those positions have become important interfaces between tāngata whenua and museums, influencing changes in institutional practices to engage with Māori communities.
What challenges can you see moving forward?
I’m not much of a futurist (Ka mura, ka muri Moving into the future with the past laid out in front of me etc.) but I think there are a lot of challenges coming generally - Aotearoa is a pretty filthy place – our polluted waterways are barely swimmable let alone potable. We’re a world leader in income inequality and far too many New Zealand children are born into poverty which impacts on health, education…te mea te mea. I’m with Sarah Sutton - ‘Museums must make themselves part of the solution or be left behind’.
It seems as though budgets will continue to tighten for the sector worldwide - the biggest challenge will be to maintain relevance for our communities through reflexive practice and to articulate the contribution museums and art galleries make towards cultural and social well-being.
There is a lot of rhetoric about the “post-Treaty era” and while it’s true that things will change – hopefully the balance of power - racist thinking is ingrained in the national psyche and will be slow to shift. A recent example that struck me was the furor over the planned World War I memorial in the Auckland Domain outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum. When I read about the designs, I thought, ‘Wow, we’re really at this stage?’ All of the proposed designs had been developed in bi-cultural partnership with Māori artists or designers – acknowledgment of the tangata whenua and in recognition of Māori who fought for our country (and for better rights in it). The way that whole thing played out in the media shows how far we still have to go.
What do you think people in the early stages of their careers can offer the sector?
Over the last year or so the Emerging Museum Professionals (EMP) group have set about actively creating the sector they want to work in. Coming together in a well-organised, enthusiastic, sharp (and fun) collective, they’ve worked hard to gain a voice in the sector – at conferences and on the Museums Aotearoa Board. This group has been developing a much-anticipated museums sector journal, Tauhere – Connections and I look forward to reading the inaugural issue in May this year.
Another vocal and committed group of emerging professionals have created Tusk - which has brought together valuable commentary about the sector from within. The Tusk team demonstrates the way in which online platforms and social media can be used as sophisticated professional tools for sector dialogue, inviting diverse voices and practices. Tusk’s unique blend of critique, humour and insight doesn’t shy away from the difficult conversations.
Something that stands out for me in both of these examples is that they are founded on a natural expectation that Te Tiriti be honoured in theory and in practice.
Feels like the future is in good hands.
What is your spirit animal?
Someone once suggested an Otter, which could work, but it might be Pīwaiwaka - I always see them flitting around in trees. Which is where I prefer to see them.
Pīwaiwaka: Curious, bold and brave. Sociable and socially conscious. Energetic, adaptable - able to change direction mid-flight. Quick to learn but a chatterbox and fidgets when bored. Interesting sense of style.
Always has a laugh at the ready even when it isn’t entirely appropriate (sorry Māui).
Pīwaiwaka is a reminder of our mortality – carpe diem…yolo…