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Zoe Black adds spice to a space

20 Jun 2019
Zoe Black talks with Emanuella de Ruiter about providing opportunities to showcase works created within diverse communities

Objectspace – a gallery dedicated to craft, design, and architecture – recently advertised for a position on The Big Idea and recruited Zoe Black to be their new Maukuuku Community Development Coordinator. This is an entirely new role, born from the gallery's awareness that they could provide opportunities to showcase works created within diverse communities throughout New Zealand — such as those which may not have direct access to public art galleries.

Outside the normal curatorial framework

Zoe was instantly drawn to the description of an interesting and varied role, and excited by the prospect of working directly with communities to create exhibitions outside of the normal curatorial framework.

“This is such an amazing institution —it’s a place that I've always wanted to be a part of in some way. The role ticked all my boxes. Working with communities, artists, and the people around them has always been the thing I’ve enjoyed the most within the different roles that I've had.”

Zoe comes from both an education and arts management background: she has been a secondary school teacher, the Education and Public Programmes Manager for the Wallace Arts Trust, and most recently a curator at Malcolm Smith Gallery in east Auckland.

“I started in March, but I have been an admirer and visitor to the gallery for a number of years. I was familiar with Objectspace and how it’s different to other spaces before I started.”

Embracing the Tuvalu Community

Zoe’s new role stems from a two-year project that culminated in two exhibitions of work from the Tuvalu community: one was a large exhibition by an artist called Lakiloko Keakea, who creates beautiful crocheted works synonymous with Tuvalu art.

“Through the process of working with Lakiloko, and the arts collective of a number of women from the Tuvalu community, the exhibition was realised with a strong co-designed mentality. So instead of the usual curated exhibition that imposes a gallery idea of what the exhibition should be like, it was actually a thoughtful and collaborative process that brought the exhibition to life.”

Objectspace are currently touring Lakiloko’s exhibition, Fafetu, with it's first stop being the Lower Hutt’s Dowse Art Museum on 22nd of June.  

Zoe’s role is to connect with various communities and find artists who are creating work that might fit within the criteria of the gallery.  She also works closely alongside community ambassadors to ensure that the work is presented appropriately and that the gallery is respectful to the communities whose work they are exhibiting.

“At the moment we are working with the Cambodian community in Auckland and it has been fascinating — I was able to connect with a lot of the families that we are working with and learn a huge amount about the Cambodian culture, which was such a valuable experience and I’m continuing to learn as we go.”

Opening of the Tuvalu exhibitions, both photos by David St George

Collective Memory and Cultural Identity

The resulting exhibition called Alive speaks to the consequences of the Khmer Rouge and the stories of Cambodian families who had to relocate to Aotearoa as a result. Kim Hak, a Cambodian photographer, collected stories from survivors of the Khmer Rouge and took photographs of the objects that they had from their time either before the Khmer Rouge or during that period. Often they are objects that they held onto throughout their stressful ordeals in refugee camps in places such as Malaysia.

“Hak decided that it was important as a way to heal and as a way to ensure these things don't happen again. He documented some of those stories so that the younger generations can learn what happened. He travelled to New Zealand in 2018 and met with twelve different Cambodian families across Auckland and took photographs of objects that they brought with them when they first arrived here in the 70s and 80s.”


Opening celebration of Kim Hak’s exhibition Alive, photos by David St George

As part of the Maukuuku programme, Zoe’s primary goal is to ensure that when the gallery hosts these exhibitions, the communities feel safe when they visit the exhibition, that they understand what the space means, and that during this period the gallery is a place for them to come and experience their own stories within Objectspace’s walls.

“It is really about opening up the gallery and ensuring that these communities feel accepted and that they might even be able to learn more about their own culture through the work that is exhibited. It’s a long process but it’s also incredibly valuable. We’re making some great friendships with a lot of people that we wouldn't have met otherwise, or who wouldn't come to the gallery if it wasn't for the artist that we are working with. It is very special.”

Zoe Black


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