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Matariki Williams is the Senior Curator Mātauranga Māori at Te Papa Tongarewa, and a judge for the inaugural Capital Photographer of the Year. She talks to Francesca Emms.

Ask Matariki Williams who her favourite artist is and you probably won’t get an answer.

The Curator Mātauranga Māori at Te Papa is spoiled for choice. “I’m really lucky to work in a memory institution and have centuries of art at my fingertips,” she says. “I work with the taonga Māori collection which consists of taonga from pre-contact times right through to contemporary social history, fashion and art. This makes it nigh on impossible to choose a favourite.”

In addition to her curatorial work Matariki does “a lot of editing and writing on the side, usually about art, culture and society.” As if that isn’t enough, she’s also working on her doctoral proposal. “I want to look at critical writing on Māori art and the lack thereof, especially from Māori writers. As part of this I want to explore wānanga as an editorial process, and to expand the way in which critical writing is defined by looking at ekphrasis (a very fancy word that I just learned from an editor colleague) between Māori artists and writers, as well as my own practice.”

Recently she saw Shannon Te Ao’s my life as a tunnel at the Dowse, and says, “When I went I had the gallery almost to myself, and I sat where I could see the edge of the pātaka Nuku Tewhatewha which cast shadows on the floor toward me. It was very affecting.”

Matariki is “a huge fan of the mahi of Miria George and Hone Kouka, and the theatre community around them.” So every Matariki season – “not me, the stars” she clarifies – she tries to make it to at least one show in the Kia Mau Festival.

When she’s not working Matariki will usually be at home with her partner and two children. Weekends always start with the kids’ swimming lessons in Berhampore. “As they’re so early, it means we make it to Gramercy before all the bread sells out.” On Sunday evenings they all sit down together and watch Attenborough as dinner cooks. “It’s bliss,” she says.

Living in Island Bay offers easy access to the Empire Cinema’s gelato and Matariki’s favourite thing about Wellington − the environment. “I get to see the harbour and the south coast every day, and no matter what the weather is like, they always look great.” She’s been trying to get back into running lately and says, “There’s nothing like being blown around the south coast to clear your mind.”

Family vacations are usually spent in the Bay of Plenty. “A lot of my whānau live in Rotorua, and we whakapapa to Ngāti Whakaue, so I’ve been heading there all my life.” Matariki’s dream destination is a hut surrounded by native bush. “In Tūhoe we have a word that expresses our relationship to each other and our whenua, and I want my kids to understand and live the meaning of this word: matemateaone. I’d love to have space to go to with my whānau, on our tipuna whenua in Te Urewera, to feel the soil beneath their feet and appreciate how holistically our people live there. It’s hard to put into words but there is a connection to that land that grows stronger by being there.”

Photography by Anna Briggs

First published Capital #52


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