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Māori, Japanese worlds merge in Auckland Art Gallery’s new virtual exhibit

August 19, 2020

Māori, Japanese worlds merge in Auckland Art Gallery’s new virtual exhibit

The Enchanted Worlds Japanese exhibition in te reo Māori. Photo: Supplied

The world’s first virtual reality art gallery exhibition in te reo Māori was launched this week.

The virtual reality version of Auckland Art Gallery’s Enchanted Worlds: Hokusai, Hiroshige and the Art of Edo Japan has been translated into te reo Māori.

Project leader Tania Stoyanof says the gallery felt it was important to offer the experience in te reo.

“There's never been a historic Edo period Japanese exhibition translated into te reo Maori, let alone available as an augmented reality experience,” she says.

There are Japanese words that can’t be translated into te reo and that was challenging, says Stoyanof.

“[This is] super significant. We [are] normalising the use of the language by using a different setting."

The Auckland Art Gallery moved swiftly to turn the Japanese Edo period (1603–1868) exhibition into virtual reality when New Zealand moved into lockdown in March.

It was a huge effort, says Stoyanof.

“We were frantically working around the clock; cobbling it together on the fly,” she says.

The team completed the specialist photography, which involved taking up to 50 photos of the more than 60 paintings, at 6pm the night before New Zealand moved into lockdown.

“We pivoted really quickly: New Zealand's first virtual reality gallery using software that has never been used [by an art gallery] before.”

This is the first time the exhibition’s Edo period paintings have been shown in New Zealand and for some, this is the first time they’ve been shown in public.

The exhibit is being deconstructed now. A Japanese courier underwent two weeks of quarantine to oversee the wrapping of the art.

Auckland Art Gallery director Kirsten Paisley says the gallery wants to see more programming available in te reo Māori.

“Making te reo Māori a more accessible and widely used language in everyday settings, not just in educational contexts, is essential to normalising its use.”

Stoyanof is the first wahine Maori on the gallery’s leadership team.

"I have a responsibility as a Maori; as a Maori woman on the senior leadership team to ensure te ao Maori has a voice at that table and that it's heard."

The exhibition can be seen online at https://virtual.aucklandartgallery.com/.

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