Pop­u­lar Pataka in Ked­g­ley’s hands


He­len Ked­g­ley’s in­ter­est in nonWestern art be­gan not in the mul­ti­cul­tural melt­ing pot of Porirua but within the re­fined walls of a Paris art school.

Ked­g­ley is the new di­rec­tor of Pataka where she has been se­nior cu­ra­tor of con­tem­po­rary arts. She is also an artist, though her art is ‘‘on the back burner’’ and has usu­ally been ex­hib­ited overseas, in Africa and In­dia, and in France, where she stud­ied.

Ked­g­ley grad­u­ated from the L’Ecole du Lou­vre in Paris with a di­ploma in art his­tory and from L’Ecole Na­tionale Su­perieure des Beaux Arts with an ad­vanced di­ploma in fine arts. Her Euro­pean ed­u­ca­tion fit­ted in neatly with be­ing the wife of then diplo­mat Chris Laid­law.

Be­fore Paris, she grad­u­ated with an arts de­gree, ma­jor­ing in pol­i­tics, from Vic­to­ria Univer­sity, and tried Elam School of Fine Arts in Auck­land, for an un­sat­is­fac­tory year.

‘‘Elam left a lot to be de­sired. It was an ex­tremely ma­cho en­vi­ron­ment. I headed off and into art school in Paris.’’

In Paris, she was ac­cepted as one of a hand­ful of for­eign stu­dents and and grad­u­ated with her ad­vanced di­ploma as top stu­dent in her year.

One of her teach­ers was an im­pres­sive author­ity on Chi­nese art and Ked­g­ley spe­cialised in the sub­ject. She grad­u­ated ‘‘with a very early pas­sion for nonWestern art’’.

Her in­ter­est was strength­ened by her ex­pe­ri­ences on the diplo­matic cir­cuit. She and Laid­law trav­elled ex­ten­sively and lived in 18 houses in five coun­tries in the first 20 years of their mar­riage. Ked­g­ley took sev­eral art- re­lated jobs on the way, in­clud­ing one as a de­signer at the Sci­ence Mu­seum in Ox­ford. She ex­hib­ited, painted and worked at the African Na­tional Gallery in Zim­babwe.

Back in Welling­ton af­ter diplo­matic life, her ap­pre­ci­a­tion of non-West­ern art first led her to work at Page 90 Artspace Gallery, a 1990 ini­tia­tive of lo­cal women and the Porirua com­mu­nity. Page 90 was ab­sorbed into Pataka, which opened in 1998.

As a cu­ra­tor, Ked­g­ley brought a wealth of non-West­ern art, along with other home- made and some overseas art, to Pataka’s gal­leries. That won’t change now she has be­come Pataka’s di­rec­tor. Noth­ing at Pataka will change rad­i­cally, she says.

‘‘Pataka is do­ing very well. I don’t feel the need to make too many dras­tic changes. In terms of vis­i­tor num­bers, they’re down in some in­sti­tu­tions. For­tu­nately, ours are up.’’

In the year to June 30, nearly 179,000 peo­ple dropped in to see what was on show in Pataka, more than 18,000 above tar­get.

‘‘Pataka, is unique,’’ she says, ‘‘be­cause Porirua is a mul­ti­cul­tural city, 27 per cent Pa­cific Is­lan­ders, 21 per cent Maori and the rest pakeha. Pataka has been truly mul­ti­cul­tural. Right from the start the ex­hi­bi­tion pro­gramme has re­flected the makeup of the com­mu­nity. In con­tem­po­rary Maori and Pa­cific Is­land art it’s a leader in its field.’’

Ked­g­ley’s role as di­rec­tor is a new one, es­tab­lished af­ter Darcy Ni­cholas, Porirua coun­cil’s man­ager of com­mu­nity ser­vices and also an artist, moved on from Pataka.

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