Creativity used to represent regional Aotearoa

Sarah McClintock will start in her new role as Aratoi director next month. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
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In her new role, Sarah McClintock hopes to bring visibility to Wairarapa’s diverse communities, through the universal magic of art and creativity.

McClintock, a veteran curator, writer, and archivist, has been appointed as the new director of Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History.

She will take over the role on September 19, succeeding Susanna Shadbolt, who has been appointed chief executive of Te Manawa Museum in Palmerston North.

McClintock comes to Wairarapa from Nelson, where she spent the past six years as curator and collections manager at the Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū, one of the oldest purpose-built galleries in Aotearoa.

Previously, she worked as assistant curator at Whanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehuna and, before that, at the National Archive in Wellington.

Under her leadership, the Sarjeant scooped an award for Best Regional Exhibition at the 2016 New Zealand Museum Awards for a powerful installation paying tribute to New Zealand’s war horses.

At the Suter, McClintock was well known for her commitment to Maori [Maori art]working with iwi to showcase tangata whenua and their craftsmanship.

McClintock said art is an important vehicle for representing culture and identity – and, as Aratoi director, looks forward to hanging more Wairarapa stories on the walls of its regional gallery.

“Art reflects humanity as a whole: beautiful, angry, scary, and messy. It captures the full gamut of emotions,” she said.

“It’s also a reflection of a community, no less so for regional New Zealand.

“In my experience, the regions are full of people of different backgrounds, Maori, the Asian community, migrant communities, young people, the Rainbow community, and art brings their stories to life.

“In a small town, you may think you know everybody, and you’ve seen everything. But there’s always another layer, another level, another perspective and that adds such a richness.

“By showing their art, I want to help different communities feel seen.”

As a curator, McClintock was able to engage with a range of artists, working together to help them realize their vision in the museum spaces.

Her role also allowed her to engage with her passion for words, writing introductory texts for exhibitions, as well as articles for art magazines and for companion books published by the galleries.

She was also responsible for managing Suter’s extensive collection, which includes a large catalog of works from iconic New Zealand painters Sir Toss Woollaston and John Gully and multiple ceramic pieces from around Aotearoa, and organizing seminars with exhibiting artists.

One of her career highlights was curating the award-winning exhibition, “The Horses Stayed Behind” by artist and filmmaker Cat Auburn, representing the 10,000 horses that went overseas during World War I.

A detail from “The Horses Stayed Behind”, an award-winning exhibition curated by McClintock for the Sarjeant Gallery.

Auburn’s installation was made up of sculptured rosettes, inspired by hair wreaths worn by Victorian families in mourning, made up of hair from 500 horses throughout the country.

“It got people thinking about the wider implications of war. It was a new and creative way to memorialize loss of life, more intimate than a statue, which can feel quite cold.”

Another highlight was partnering with the six iwi of Te Tauihu [the top of the South Island] to highlight Maori creators, including exhibitions of traditional harakeke weavers and carved uku [clay] artefacts.

“We had total buy-in from iwi for these projects,” she said.

“It was important that Maori artists were able to tell their own story rather than us telling it for them.”

McClintock said she was drawn to the role at Aratoi because of its “very strong reputation” on the national stage.

“Susanna has done an amazing job and the team is passionate about creating a gallery that inspires the community.

“Plus, it’s hard to do a bad exhibition in that space – it’s so beautiful!”

A self-proclaimed “sucker for craft”, she hopes to give a bigger profile to Wairarapa’s master handcrafters, jewellers, potters, weavers and glass artists, and eventually collaborate with overseas galleries and creators.

For example, she hopes to team up with artists she met while living in Taiwan, many of whom work with locally-sourced jade, similar to pounamu.

“Because of the Asia-Pacific diaspora, New Zealand has a visceral connection and a strong kinship with places like Taiwan.

“It would be amazing to have reciprocal exhibitions with the Taiwanese community.”

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