The display of New Zealand art and taonga in overseas embassies is a form of soft diplomacy which reflects our shared cultural values and history. Jill Trevelyan and Chris Cane are kaitiaki for this collection which contains about 2700 works in 60 overseas posts. Jill told a large group of Friends about the collection and its aims, characteristics and display at a recent illustrated talk.
Collected since the 1940s the display of the works was a graphically proud way of telling the story of Aotearoa’s land and people. Slides of our embassies in London, Beijing, Dublin, Paris and in posts in the Pacific showed how well these objectives were being met. Carefully chosen furniture, interior design and architecture further enhanced the display of these pieces.
The Te Maori exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1984 was one of the most important and graphic displays of our indigenous art overseas. But over the years a wide range of works by mainly contemporary artists have been bought and displayed. Controversy had been created some years ago when it was learnt some works had been sold. This no longer occurs and works are sometimes loaned out to public collections or parliament when they are no longer needed overseas. Maori and Pacific art is an important part of the collection which needs to be fresh, confident and bold. Jill said it was hoped that the works would remain in place for at least 10 years rather than changing whenever a new ambassador was appointed. Books describing the art and artists in multiple languages were sometimes produced for individual embassies. Jill said while the collection was widely admired by those that saw it, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not actively seek to publicise details of the entire collection. She had obviously enjoyed this fairly rare opportunity to discuss it, and the Friends, including a number of former diplomats, applauded warmly.