What a fascinating collaboration! Curators Sarah Farrar and Nina Tonga told Friends of Te Papa how they worked together with Jill Trevelyan, the artist Robin White herself and with others over nine years to put together the Robin White exhibition ’Something is Happening Here’, recently at Te Papa and now at Auckland Art Gallery, and the publication on Robin White’s life and career that goes with it.
Sarah Farrah, formerly at Te Papa now at Auckland Art Gallery, was inspired by the way Robin White talked about her work. Jill Trevelyan was interested in writing a book. Together they researched how Robin White was represented in the collection over time. Still it was a big leap from research to an exhibition. “I had to create the show I wanted to see” Sarah said. They went on a ‘”pilgrimage” to find the places where Robin White had lived and worked in New Zealand, Kiribati and Fiji. They wanted to “see a place through her eyes”.
Nina Tonga joined the project in 2019. She and Jill Trevelyan went to Fiji with Robin White to see and film her at work on tapa with her Fijian partners. Nina and Jill expected to be observers. They ended up joining in the intensive making and living together which is Robin White’s way of working. “I learned how labour-intensive and physical making the work is. It’s a slower way of working but so careful”. Nina said.
The process of art making is most important to Robin. It’s important to share knowledge and collaboration. The curators had to find a way to bring in the collaborators. For example they have used videos throughout the exhibition. Some activities round the exhibition are “stepping into the unknown”. For Sarah “It’s the joy of keeping up with the working artist”.
Images: H Troup