Te Papa’s acknowledgement of the Canterbury earthquakes

Te Papa acknowledges that the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 were one of the most significant and devastating events in New Zealand’s history. As such, Te Papa is working actively to preserve the memory and evidence of these traumatic events for future generations, as well as providing direct, expert support to heritage organisations affected.

As such, Te Papa will be refreshing the Awesome Forces exhibition in the near future to include the cause and impact of the Canterbury earthquakes. In particular, it will acknowledge the 6.3 earthquake at 12.51pm on 22 February 2011 that caused severe damage and resulted in the loss of 185 lives in Christchurch and its suburbs, with many injured and displaced.

In addition to this, Te Papa has been collecting objects and filming stories around the earthquakes – particularly around public support, such as fundraising and spirit-raising initiatives, and around creative and entrepreneurial responses to the earthquakes. From precious jewellery to tea-towels, these objects and their makers tell a multitude of stories from those at the epicentre to the rest of New Zealand.

Some of the objects are embedded with the most abiding symbols and sayings of the period. The heart in particular became the key symbol of care and support. ‘Kia kaha’ (be strong) became a common saying, inscribed on many objects. Several objects feature the Christchurch Cathedral at the heart of the city – the damaged church has become the key symbol of devastation, but also hope for renewal.

Even though Te Papa has not collected any objects actually damaged in the earthquakes, it has collected evidence of damaged buildings and liquefaction recycled into objects of meaning and beauty. The collection also documents the incredibly hard work of groups such as the Student Volunteer Army.

In consultation with Canterbury Museum, Te Papa’s collection will continue to grow through this process.

Te Papa is also supporting the Canterbury Cultural Collection Recovery Centre project in Wigram, Christchurch which houses the treasures of 22 small and medium organisations that lost buildings in the quake.

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