M a C X: Te Kōpua ‘the deep’

A discussion regarding recent participation in Curator Māori recruitment, Toi o Tāmaki 2021

© Rangihīroa Panoho, 2020-2024. No part of this document (text or imagery) is free to be copied, plagiarised or shared for publication or for uses neither intended nor agreed on by the author without his express permission. The opinions expressed are those of Dr Panoho and not those of former employers or industry colleagues. Details for writing to the author are as follows: blueskypanoho@icloud.com       

‘Te Kōpua “the deep”, have you ever been at a point of crisis in your life where you have been brought to the edge…’

2021 for me has involved high highs and some lows lows. Life eh. The latter has involved enduring a 7 month long wait with a recruitment process for Curator Māori involving the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. I was shortlisted for the position back in March 22, went through their interview process ‘in good faith’ as the person in charge described it. Three referees were requested, 5 of my listed referees were actually approached with long detailed conversations reported back to me.

There was a person chosen unanimously by the panel and then…nothing for 3 weeks. Then on April 15, after requests for information I was told the gallery was taking ‘a pause’ in the recruitment process. On May 3 I sent a link to the chair of the search panel about keeping candidates engaged during recruitment processes. Obviously I was referring to myself. I was given the impression I should hang in there, ‘in good faith’. Those were the words I remember being used several times along with comments about what benefits there would be waiting for the gallery to go through whatever it was doing. This was all in a telephone conversation – nothing written down or official.  The next time I heard from the Panel was 12 October, ‘As promised some months ago, I’m getting in touch…’ In the intervening five months of silence a whole lot of spin came out from the AAG in the Media that the Gallery needed to make other appointments first one of which, ‘Kaupapa Māori’, would directly be involved in the Curator Maori appointment process. The person appointed to such a position would bring a particular expertise, in the area of the Treaty of Waitangi and its relevance in the workplace, to the Gallery. Apparently this was a priority that explained the ‘pause’.

More Māori representation sounded strange to me because two of the three panel members in the March interview were Māori. One was a representative of Haerewa (the Māori advisory panel supporting Māori within the gallery) and the other had broader Auckland Council experience in ToW workplace related issues. More importantly when the appointed ‘Kaupapa Māori’ member sat on the 12 November panel he only had a small area in the interview questionnaire because he (as with the Deputy Director  – also Maori and appointed several weeks earlier) had corporate but no background experience working in galleries, or in the arts industry or with curating Māori art specifically. Another wait followed and after a couple of weeks of no response to the interview and no request for referees I was inevitably informed another candidate had been appointed to the position.

What followed were a series of exchanges with an HR Manager who mentioned no commitment to the preferred candidate in the March interview had been made. After a number of letters and pressing her with a timeline, and arguing about the need to dialogue since the gallery apparently placed emphasis on partnership/conversational values and principles identified in the Treaty, some real information was squeezed out. I recall right at the end of my November 12 interview (the only chance one gets to actively dialogue) I asked the Director, why the protracted recruitment process and the long delays? No real or genuinely felt apology was offered, just a comment others higher up the chain, felt she (the Director) ‘apparently’ needed to be involved in the interview process. The HR Manager in a final proper response clarified the first process (where a unanimous decision had been made and references had been sought) had not been signed off by the Director. Bingo. Here was the issue that would have been useful back in April/May. Yes a clear rejection (i.e. we no longer want to proceed with your application) but something I could have coped with better than being kept hanging for much of the working year waiting for an interview that in the end most definitely was a formality, where something had already been decided and we were just going through the motions.

The wait and being left hanging was the issue, not the minor involvement that ToW kaupapa had in the final appointment. In the end only two of three original March panel members sat on the Committee and there was a strange addition to the Panel of the newly appointed Deputy Director also turning up (he asked one confusing question) to bolster, one presumes, the interview score so the numbers weighed in favour of the directorial position privately indicated in March. All in all there was no way anyone, even someone unanimously selected in the March interview and a previously preferred candidate, was going to successfully take on those odds in that November interview if the Director did not want them appointed. In my spirit I felt throughout that interview the outcome was already fait accompli.

Of course it was devastating to have the phone call from the person that had told me in March I should hang in there ‘in good faith’. However, the point of my kōrero here is not to dwell on my unhappiness with the rude and arrogant way AAGToT made me wait 7 months while they got their processes, response and alternative candidate worked out. I want to say that my referees for this position were amazing, incredibly supportive and that they always believed in me. Their response was they felt the long wait was unnecessary, the process dodgy, and it was the gallery’s loss not appointing me.

I am frustrated by the small number of industry people that keep cutting across and undermining me in the arts and in education. And that will be my ongoing process to find who slithers in the shadows. It still hurts and I am working through it but what I wanted to share here was a far more special moment that dramatically changed my thinking about this whole concern. My wife insisted on sharing a video she had taken of me talking about a month earlier about a painting that came out of a studio experience producing work for ĀTĀROA and the Mahara Gallery in Waikanae from May through to August. I was really reluctant to look at it. Although I am an educator and a presenter, lately I haven’t spoken much in posts. It was about 5/6 years ago I did some radio, television interviews and a short marketing film on my book MAORI ART, History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory (Batemans, 2015/2018).

Anyway, there I was the other day being forced to look at myself talking about Te Ruki Kawiti and the fight atop Ruapekapeka in 1845 and his kōrero with Hōne Wiremu Heke Pōkai … and I was deeply moved! It was like a version of myself and the ancestors had spoken truth into my spirit and into my future and I was listening to it.

So friends have you ever been at a point in your life where you have been brought to the edge? Have you ever taken on the parāoa in the ‘deep’? How did you cope? I want to make the point that neither the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, nor of the earlier more important 1835 He Whakaputanga (the Declaration of Independence) nor of current institutional visions and slogans offered much hope for me in this particular situation. What moved me were the events that followed the signing of the 1840 document just as it moved Hōne Heke to test the Union Jack and British sovereignty. What moved me was the unhappiness of Te Ruki Kawiti to put up with the constant reneging of the Crown and its unwillingness to truly share power and honour the rangatiratanga and mana of indigenous leaders. Te Kawiti’s actions at Ōhaeawai and Ruapekapeka show a willingness to go out into te kōpua ‘the deep’ and take on the resistance.