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August 8, 2011 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Reuben Friend

Reuben Friend is that great breath of fresh air that galleries so often need and should have. Having trained as an artist, Friend brings a different perspective to the Wellington City Gallery. I was lucky enough to interview Friend while he prepares for the upcoming Oceania: Imagining the Pacific which is opening on August 6 at the City Gallery in collaboration with Te Papa.

The journey that led him to his current position as the curator of the Deane Gallery, a space set aside solely for Māori and Pacific art, began in Gisborne. Friend did a Visual Arts Degree in Māori Visual Arts at Toihoukura, Tairawhiti Polytechnic which he finished at Toimairangi, Te Wananga o Aotearoa at the Hastings Campus. To broaden and expand his arts education he completed a postgraduate degree in Museum Studies at Massey University in Palmerston North with a Masters in Māori Visual Arts. He spent a period of time working at Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery and the Palmerston North Museum. Friend was then lucky enough to win an internship at The New Dowse which enabled him to curate an exhibition called Plastic Māori: Tradition of Innovation which looked at synthetic materials in Maori art, which raised questions of authenticity of Māori art and who can make it. He believes that “internships are a really good opportunity for people to explore and experiment with their curatorial ideas”. Friend attributes the strength of Plastic Māori for winning him the job at the Wellington City Gallery.

Friend explains that the Deane Gallery came as a result of the director Paula Savage pushing for a space for young Māori and Pacific island artists’ work to be shown. “I think Māori and Pacific island artists are kind of overlooked in the art world,” argues Friend. “Not because of any kind of racism or the quality of their works, but I think it is because the art world is predominantly a Pakeha community. So Pacific people make works about Pasifika things and unless you are really fitting into that mould, maybe things get missed or are not as valued.” The works are experimental and push the audience to broaden their ideas on art. The experience has meant that Friend has been able to explore issues around how such a space should operate and whether or not it is right to have a space that is dedicated to an ethnic grouping.

So where does Reuben Friend fit into this discussion? I think it is his honest and diverse point of view that comes from an artistic background rather than an academic one, which brings something different to the table as he helps to establish the new space. He notes that a practicing artist will come into the gallery and proclaim “I like that” or “that sucks”. In this way, I believe artists can present a view of the art world in a way that the general public can easily contemplate and understand.


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