How Contemporary HUM Ups the Visibility of New Zealand Artists Abroad
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Aotearoa New Zealand doesn't have a dedicated cultural diplomacy wing like the British Council or the Goethe Institute. To help amplify New Zealand visual art on the global stage, Pauline Autet established online platform Contemporary HUM.
Yona Lee, En route home (2020). Installation view, 2020 Busan Biennale, South Korea. Courtesy the artist, the 2020 Busan Biennale, and Fine Arts, Sydney.
Contemporary HUM launched a slick new website this month in celebration of its fifth year in operation. Dedicated to the activities of New Zealand artists abroad, the independent platform is growing steadily, attracting audiences within New Zealand and internationally.
HUM was launched in 2016 by Paris-based editor Pauline Autet following her experience as the attendant at Simon Denny's Secret Power exhibition representing New Zealand at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
'The exhibition was extremely successful internationally, but that wasn't well known in New Zealand,' Autet told Ocula Magazine. 'I thought that was really odd in the digital age. I found our geographical isolation a frustrating obstacle to being part of a global community and discourse.'
Autet, who was born in France and moved to New Zealand in her teens, said, 'French embassies overseas—like the cultural team posted in New Zealand—are super active. In France, arts and culture are vital, valued and are for everyone.'
'There is an ongoing struggle for arts and culture to be recognised as being an essential part of life in New Zealand,' she said. 'City Gallery Wellington losing their director and chief curator roles is a clear outcome of misunderstanding and underestimating what art can contribute to society, and that it requires its own specialised expertise.'
HUM is the only platform devoted to sharing and critically engaging with the activities of New Zealand visual artists overseas. It commissions critical writing, compiles a calendar of artists' events, hosts talks, forms partnerships with other arts organisations, and gives advice freely to art professionals.
The goal is at once to help New Zealanders follow what their compatriots are doing abroad and help international art appreciators and professionals better understand the context behind Kiwi artists' work.
There are almost 100 essays on the site now, including a piece about Shannon Te Ao's Ka mua, ka muri exhibition in Canada, an interview with the Mata Aho Collective at the Dhaka Art Summit in Bangladesh, and this two-part conversation between curator Amira Gad and artist Simon Denny.
The new website, designed by Sons & Co., enables easier access to the archive of essays and features through improved search and navigation.
It also offers transcripts of Contemporary HUM panel discussions, including Whose Oceania? held in London, featuring renowned historian James Belich, writer Lana Lopesi and Mana Taonga Ministry of Culture and Heritage historian Matariki Williams.
Looking ahead, Autet said HUM's aim is not to become an institution, but to continue growing in a way that is both independent and sustainable, while fostering the development of rigorous and diversified work.
In addition to key staff in Paris, London and Lisbon, the platform has associate editors in New Zealand, Europe, Asia, and North America. It plans to add more in future to increase its geographical reach.
HUM also initiates collaborations to amplify the work of other arts organisations including the Pacific, queer-led In*ter*is*land Collective and AWARE (Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions), which helps to redress the relative dearth of information on 20th century female artists.
HUM is a registered charitable trust. It is supported by grants from Creative New Zealand, as well as private fundraising, which helped generate much of the budget for the new, custom-built website.
Autet said people support their activities in myriad ways, by providing encouragement, using their networks to help make connections, or through services offered pro-bono.
There's also the possibility to join the HUM Publishers Circle on Patreon, which Autet said is an 'easy way for people to support New Zealand artists and art writers abroad.' —[O]