Te Papa Tongarewa museum in Wellington is undertaking a new curatorial project with the aim of highlighting Ainu artifacts in the museum’s collection, telling stories of Japanese migration to New Zealand, and exploring the shared histories of colonisation between indigenous people of Aotearoa and Japan.
The Cipiyak project—named after the Ainu name for the Japanese Snipe, which breed primarily in Hokkaidō and feature heavily in Ainu storytelling—is the result of years of work. A mislabelled Ainu matampus headband sent curator Grace Gassin on a path to better understand its history, connecting with Ainu scholars (including Ainu Today‘s Dr Kanako Uzawa) and descendants of early Japanese migrants to New Zealand. The result is a project that trials a new approach to the way Te Papa handles its Asian collections, prioritising the under-represented histories of indigenous and Asian diaspora communities. It’s not an exhibition but a collection development project, with stories and updates being shared mainly through online channels.
As Cassin described it in a post introducing the project:
“The Cipiyak Project brings into focus both the objects and histories of Japanese New Zealand diaspora communities and those which link Aotearoa New Zealand and Japan. These are two distinct areas of history, but they share in common the fact that they are both highly relevant to New Zealand’s history and yet are under-represented in our collections.
“This project trials a new approach to Te Papa’s Asian collections broadly, one which prioritises material that centres historical and contemporary histories relevant to indigenous communities (in this case Māori and Ainu) and the under-represented histories of Asian diaspora communities in Aotearoa.
“It takes inspiration from those indigenous and Asian activists, community leaders, and scholars who have shown us how museums wield power, including the power to address silences in our histories that normalise who matters and who doesn’t.”
Over the next few months, the project aims to explore historical and present-day relationships relevant to Te Papa museum’s Ainu and Japanese collection, with a focus on “the telling of object stories – whose stories and on what terms?”. It’ll also look at “Japanese New Zealand diaspora histories and Ainu-Māori histories, the gaps and silences in our collection, and how we’re addressing them.”
Source: Asia Media Centre