Uniformity – why uniforms matter

Most curators will be able to pick out an exhibition in their professional history that they are very fond of. And I think the exhibition I’m going to talk about in this blog is one show that will always be a bit close to my heart.

On the 27th of Sept 2012, an exhibition opened here Te Papa, in our Eyelights Gallery on Level Four – an exhibition called Uniformity: cracking the dress code. While an exhibition opening here at the museum isn’t all that unique, shows open and close here all the time, there are a number of unique attributes that Uniformity has in its favour which pick it out from the crowd.

First it’s the first collaborative exhibition between the Matauranga Maori and History teams for the Eyelights gallery, which is an exciting milestone for Te Papa trainspotters like me. But more interestingly for all you well-adjusted museum-going individuals out there, there are a number of brand new acquisitions which feature on the floor for the first time (which will be talked about in the next blog).

So why uniforms? Well, they have an unusual ability to melt into the background so you don’t notice them but they are everywhere. On a personal level, many of us have experiences (happy or unhappy) wearing uniforms. They would have identified to the rest of the world what school you went to or your place of work. But at a national level, uniforms are important records of our country’s social history. They can record organisations, allegiances, status, social movements, fashion/anti-fashion, identities, cultural shifts and beliefs. Te Papa has collected many examples of different uniforms from across New Zealand history span, so their importance in remembering New Zealand’s history is vital.

So come down to Te Papa sometime soon and take a look around the Eyelights Gallery. We hope that the show makes you take a second look at some of the old uniforms that may still be lurking in the back of your closets, stitching together your own personal history.

In the next blog, I’ll be focusing on some of the uniforms that I acquired for the Te Papa’s Maori collection and explain in a bit more depth, the reasons behind their inclusion in the collection and the exhibition.

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