Ōtorohanga (population 3000), where artist Hiria Anderson was brought up and still lives, is situated in the Waikato King Country on the banks of the Waipa River.
Until the 1880s it was a traditional Ngāti Maniapoto village, but when the Main Trunk railway was extended in 1887 it opened to European settlement and became home to both local government and the Native Land Court.
Today there is a museum complex in Ōtorohanga.
The complex comprises four historic local buildings; a 1912 Courthouse , a Police Office, an 1896 lockup, and a 1908 Anglican Chapel . There is also a fifth (contemporary) building, Te Waonui o Tane, containing the remains of a partially built totara waka, complete with tree roots, unearthed in 2002 after being buried for 150 years.
In early 2021 Hiria Anderson was invited to join the Ōtorohanga Museum Committee.
“Museums are memory vaults. They hold the remnants of lives once lived and keep records of events in history.
They rely on people to administer these memories and they are conduits serving a personal or public narrative that keeps the truth, the lie, the memory or the dream alive.
My work at the Museum has made me ask questions about the point at which objects become ‘taonga’ and the point when they return to being ‘just objects’ … and I wonder who decides.
Going further, I ask questions about when and how a piece is ranked as ‘tapu’ or ‘noa’.
I wonder about the fact that some objects manage to resurface in these institutions while others are lost forever.
Who decides which pieces will survive?
And what does it mean when we see an object in a museum that we might also see in our own homes?
Mostly, though, I am intrigued by our reaction to being in their presence. Do they change our personal story? Do they change our collective story?And if we visit a museum and see a land-surveying instrument, in a region where Māori were subject to vast land confiscation, what should we think?