institution: National Library of New Zealand and Archives NZ
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
He Tohu is a new permanent exhibition of three iconic constitutional documents that shape Aotearoa New Zealand.
The exhibition houses five kōrero stations that feature a wide range of New Zealanders speaking about:
- 1835 He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni — Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand (our Declaration of Independence)
- 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi — Treaty of Waitangi (a treaty signed between indigenous Maori, and Queen Victoria’s representatives)
- 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition — Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine (which saw NZ women being the first in the world to get the right to vote)
The kaupapa (guiding principle) of the exhibition design team was “He whakapapa kōrero, he whenua kura”. Talking about our past, to create a better future. These interactives bring voices into the exhibition, and get that talking going.
The design was based on research that showed us that our audience were engaged the most when they were told great stories. They love interactivity, and are drawn into technology in an exhibition, but a story would be what would hold them there.
On the subject of the Treaty, in particular, our audience also wanted to talk about it, and they really wanted to hear what others had to say. They didn’t like that it wasn’t being discussed in their lives and they thought it was time to start.
Simple in concept but logistically complex, the He Tohu kōrero is about bringing real dialogue to the topic of each of the three documents. Mosaics of square screens play out a huge diversity of recorded interviews (over 600), hand-curated into themed clusters.
Each station has five screens, each screen shows a person, and people talk in contrast to each other, offering different views. The dialogue flies around the screens like a fast paced dialogue between a group, providing a fascinating experience to listen to.
The people represented are historians, academics, teachers, students, politicians, youth, activists, and completely ordinary people filmed on the streets, beaches, farms and shopping malls of our country. Sometimes their views make you sit up, or smile, and sometimes they make you seethe.
If you feel moved, you are encouraged to sit in the booth, and add your own kōrero to the dialogue – you can be part of this too!
Clips are shot in te reo (Māori) and in English, and each one is transcribed, translated and also shot in sign language. This makes it one of the most accessible displays we have ever seen in a public display.
They are a dynamic addition to a history exhibition, adding in real people today, and importantly adding in the voice of the visitor.
Here’s a facebook post one visitor left:
“Yesterday i visited the fabulous He Tohu exhibition at the National Library…I will definitely go again and would recommend starting on the left hand side of the main display and going through as many of the audio visual pieces as you can. They are really well done and provide a good counter balance to the other displays. I learnt heaps, I can’t recommend this highly enough.”