CU­RA­TOR OF CURIOS

ES­THER TOBIN (39), FROM AUCK­LAND, IS THE CON­TENT AND IN­TER­PRE­TA­TION DEVEL­OPER AT AUCK­LAND WAR ME­MO­RIAL MU­SEUM

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - THIS WEEK IN... - As told to Ciara Pratt

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).

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