CANCELLED: TU lecture to address cultural issues surrounding museum exhibitions

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, this event has been cancelled. The university is planning to reschedule the lecture for later this spring.


Internationally known for his provocative views on museum exhibit design, Paul Tapsell, chair in Māori Studies and dean of Te Tumu, the School of Māori, at the University of Otago in New Zealand, will incorporate audiovisual, narrative and song during an upcoming presentation about creating museum exhibits that are engaging and culturally accurate.

The lecture will be at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28 in the Chouteau Room in the Allen Chapman Activity Center on The University of Tulsa campus. Tapsell will share his experiences in the Ko Tawa exhibition project, which challenged New Zealand’s Auckland Museum to rethink its practice of displaying the Māori tribe’s taonga (cultural treasures).

The Ko Tawa exhibit addressed the problem of conventional museum exhibitions that present native people’s treasures out of context. By displaying indigenous pieces according to Western ideas of art and culture, exhibits masked the deeper meaning associated with these tribal pieces.

As director of the Auckland Museum in 2003, Tapsell, gathered a team of 10 Māori museum employees, supported by colleagues and key industry leaders, to take the exhibit’s artifacts back to their roots. They developed a daring exhibition targeting New Zealand’s indigenous youth as its primary audience. Through the Ko Tawa exhibit, the Auckland Museum became a venue for displaying taonga according to the values and perspectives of their originating communities.

The Ko Tawa exhibit and its development generated significant questions and challenges that are relevant to museums in the United States, in particular for Native American collections. The accurate and respectful display of Native American cultural artifacts continues to be a challenge for museums, especially when communicating centuries-old narratives to a younger, more urban generation. The talk will also address ways in which indigenous source communities might successfully become co-producers of ancestrally bounded knowledge within museum contexts.

Additionally, Tapsell will provide perspectives on broader associations between museums, universities, and the various publics they serve, and to whom they are responsible. For more information on the Ko Tawa exhibit, visit

This lecture is made possible by generous contributions from the Chapman Trust, the TU Graduate School and the TU Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

About Paul Tapsell
Dr. Paul Tapsell is chair in Māori Studies and dean of Te Tumu, the School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin, Aoteoroa/New Zealand. Previously, Tapsell served as the Tumuaki Māori (Māori Director) of the Auckland Museum. Coming from a well-known family that traces its descent from the main tribes of Te Arawa, he has a distinguished academic record. After completing his bachelor’s degree in anthropology at the University of Auckland, he was the curator of the Rotorua Museum of Art and History from 1990 to 1994. He returned to the University of Auckland, where he earned his master’s degree in anthropology, before completing a doctoral degree at the University of Oxford. He was then a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra.

About Museum Science and Management at TU
The master of arts in museum science and management degree program at TU provides both interdisciplinary coursework and hands-on experience designed to prepare future museum professionals in the areas of museum administration, fiscal management, collections care and research, and museum education. For more information about the master’s degree program in museum science and management, visit or contact the Graduate School at (918) 631-2336.

Brian Hosmer