Tohu a Te Kīngi 2024: Art curator Megan Tamati-Quennell

Curator and writer Megan Tamati-Quennell. Photo / Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Over 30 years of translating a passion for modern and contemporary Māori art into prose and exhibitions has led to curator and writer Megan Tamati-Quennell (Te Ātiawa, Ngāi Tahu and Kāti Māmoe) being recognised in today’s King’s Birthday Honours.

She has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori and First Nations art.

Tamati-Quennell has held curatorial roles at Te Papa Tongarewa and New Plymouth’s Govett Brewster Art Gallery, and has a special interest in contemporary Māori art, Māori modernism, Māori women artists and global indigenous art.

Tamati-Quennell says the honour is not just for herself.

“It is an honour because it comes from the community that I serve. I feel like it is a honour not just for me but also for my family, my mother and my son Taniora, who had to sacrifice a lot because I was always working. Also my iwi Te Ātiawa and Ngāi Tahu, those communities that I belong to.”

She worked as a weaver before becoming a curator, weaving under Diane Prince at the Wellington Arts Centre and Erenora Puketapu Hetet at Waiwhetu Marae.

She cites the first exhibition she curated Pū Manawa - which was a show that acknowledged mahi raranga, the Māori weavers and contemporary artists - as one of the highlights of her career.

Also at the start of her career, Tamati-Quennell was involved with Kohia Ko Taikaka Anake, the largest exhibition of contemporary Māori art held at the National Art Gallery in the early 1990s. This introduced her to senior Māori artists like Buck Nin, Paratene Matchitt, Selwyn Muru and early works by artists such as Peter Robinson, Shane Cotton and Michael Parekōwhai.

Another important moment was being asked by the Papatipu Rūnaka of Ngāi Tahu to curate the iwi exhibition for Te Papa – Mō Tātou in 2006 and working with kaumātua to achieve it.

She has recently completed an exhibition for Te Papa called Hīnaki: Contemplation of a Form, and is currently working on a show with painter Emily Karaka set down for September at the Sharjah Art Foundation in the United Arab Emirates.

Tamati-Quennell has been handpicked to co-curate the next Sharjah Biennial project in early 2025, which involves 26 artists including eight from Aotearoa.

“It is my first biennial project and I am really loving the opportunity. It is coming together well and I am really excited to be working with all the artists. Good projects say something, are important and contribute to an art history for the future.”

She has also begun to study towards a practice-led PHD at Monash University in Melbourne, which she says has given her an opportunity to look back and reassess her curatorial work.

“In a broader way, my goals and priorities are really to work to and for artists to represent them and the work they do in the best way possible.

“Being a curator is about serving people, particularly artists and lots of communities. It is an amazing profession which grows with you - and which I think of as more of a calling than a career.”