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Rewriting the Script

Te Papa Tongarewa the Museum of New Zealand

Amiria Henare

Keywords: biculturalism; indigenous cultural property; Maori; materiality; new national museums; New Zealand; settler societies

The national Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa was comprehensively restructured in the 1990s in accordance with new government policies of ‘biculturalism,’ designed to reformulate relations between indigenous Maori and descendants of colonial settlers. This article, which traces the development of the new Museum, is a case study, not only of contemporary cultural politics in a settler society, but also of the impact of discursive theory on museums. Te Papa has embraced critical literature and has incorporated into its exhibitions notions derived from literary theory, such as subversion, deconstruction, and ‘play.’ ‘Biculturalism’ may be seen as another rhetorical device, one that effects a conceptual separation between Maori and non-Maori that is given form in the Museum’s physical structure and operations. This article considers how cultural policy shapes museum practice, and questions whether biculturalism is an effective strategy in terms of its stated aim of supporting Maori self-determination and a (cultural and political) ‘partnership’ with Pakeha, New Zealanders of European descent.

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