CURATOR OF CURIOS
ESTHER TOBIN (39), FROM AUCKLAND, IS THE CONTENT AND INTERPRETATION DEVELOPER AT AUCKLAND WAR MEMORIAL MUSEUM
Esther’s nights at the museum
When my grandmother was young and first came to New Zealand from India on a ship, the museum building was the first thing she saw. For her, it was such a striking and unexpected building to encounter because she’d grown up in Northern India. I kind of like to think of her seeing it for the very first time when I look at the building. And now I work here!
My role is to be the advocate for visitors to the museum. It’s my responsibility to make sure they have a really fantastic experience in the exhibitions and that we tell stories in the most compelling way.
I work closely with the project team and the curator who are the ones with the specialist knowledge of a specific exhibition. But in this role, you get exposed to so many random topics at many times. I don’t have specialist knowledge in any one area, but I do have this random general knowledge about obscure things.
It can have a bit of a Night at the Museum feel at times – and I have been stuck in the lift before, but that was during the day, thank goodness! After dark, the museum is a very interesting place to be.
Visitors might be surprised by the sheer number of people and amount of time that goes into crafting an exhibition.
We’ve been planning our latest exhibition, The Secret World of Butterflies, for a year.
In 2008, the museum was very lucky to be bequeathed a private collection from collector Ray Shannon. He had accumulated around 13,000 butterflies from all over the world since World War II.
The team has been waiting a good few years to get this on display and this is the first time it’s been seen in public.
This is my favourite exhibition I’ve ever worked on and it’s the challenge of combining robust science with something that’s visually stimulating, fun and playful that I enjoy.
We think of butterflies as these ethereal, beautiful, magical creatures, but in fact they’re tough cookies! For example, they will drink urine for the minerals! Or how’s this for a fact? Some male butterflies will feed on fermented fruit juice, get a bit tipsy and have fights!
People come into this job from all different paths and directions. I could be working with scientists, educators, artists – all really varied backgrounds.
My background was in documentary and film research, and storytelling – I didn’t come into this role until I was 35.
I was living in the UK at the time as a solo mum, and I had all these creative inclinations and pursuits. On moving back to New Zealand, I did my masters in arts management and got an internship at the museum, where I landed a job with the exhibitions team.
It’s such an old-fashioned thing, an internship, but if you find the right thing and you’re pretty determined, you can absolutely find your path.
I am very happy to be here. I don’t take any day for granted. It’s a privilege working in this place amongst all this amazing taonga and all these incredible people.”
Top: Some of the collection that was amassed by private collector Ray Shannon. Left: At the Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa exhibition in 2016 and World of Wearable Arts in 2014 (above).