Making histories: reflecting on experiences of Covid-19

Making histories: reflecting on experiences of Covid-19

Curator Asian New Zealand Histories Dr Grace Gassin introduces Making Histories – a Te Papa project exploring different experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

We’re all living through a crisis of global proportions as we continue to face the Covid-19 pandemic. What have we learnt from our histories and experiences so far? What have we already forgotten? How can we learn more from those whose experiences of this time have been different from our own? What opportunities exist in this moment to create a better future?

Making Histories is a Te Papa project which aims to support visitors and communities around New Zealand to reflect on and share their experiences of Covid-19. In the midst of these uncertain times, it also aims to foster longer-term discussions about issues such as work, health and wellbeing, racism, and inequality in Aotearoa by highlighting under-represented experiences and perspectives.

Making Histories workshop, February 2021. Photo by Sarah Jane D. Lipura

We’re actively engaging a diverse range of community stakeholders to help us determine the digital content and public programmes stemming from this project and will share our co-developed creations and activities with you as they come to fruition – these may take the form of blogs, talks, workshops, community events – or something else entirely! We also invite you to take part in this shared process of reflection.

Add your voice to an exchange of views on the pandemic – the EggFruit

In the last week of February 2021, visitors to Te Papa got their chance to exchange views on the pandemic by stepping inside the EggFruit, a mobile recording booth that gathers and broadcasts the thoughts and ideas of the people of Aotearoa New Zealand. Charismatic hosts guided people through interacting with this intriguing object when it touched down on Te Papa’s forecourt. Read the follow-up post about the EggFruit experience.

The EggFruit was designed as an alternative method of public consultation around issues of national identity (e.g. the flag referendum of 2016).

People sitting on the grass looking at a bronze-coloured egg shape on the grass
EggFruit by Barbarian Productions. Photo courtesy of Barbarian Productions

Hear and learn from others

Te Papa held its first two Making Histories workshops at Te Manawa in Auckland on the weekend of 13 and 14 February – the last one finishing just hours before Auckland’s three-day lockdown was announced at 7pm on Sunday.

The Saturday workshop included active members of various local Korean community organisations who formed a ‘coalition’ during the dramatic events of 2020 to help provide important forms of support such as Korean translations of Covid-19 briefings and instructions for the Covid Tracer app.

The Sunday workshop brought together a diverse range of international students and migrants from countries including Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Korea, the Philippines, Brazil, Vietnam, and Nepal.

Making Histories workshop, February 2021. Photo by Young-Rie Rho

Over the course of an afternoon, each group of participants was given an insight into Te Papa’s Covid-19 collecting activities thus far and a chance to share their own thoughts on what could be included in the national collection.

They were also invited to share their wider thoughts on what issues they hoped to see represented more prominently in national and public debates.

Making Histories workshop, February 2021. Photo by Young-Rie Rho

In-depth reflections will be shared in the coming weeks by workshop-lead Curator, Asian New Zealand Histories Dr Grace Gassin, and co-facilitators Dr Rebekah Jaung and Ms Sarah Jane D. Lipura – for now, some snippets from the participants:

The lockdown, to me it was a time of anxiety, um, stressful. Being a healthcare worker, when you go out you are afraid of going too close to people so that you don’t transmit and even when you go to work, you don’t know where your colleagues have been.

When you going back home again you have to, you know, put off your uniform, you can’t allow the children to hug you, to come close to you, there is a limit, even cooking – you are just so conscious of your health, your family, people around you, even people we are caring for, so I’ll say it’s a whole lot of stress and anxiety.

– Veronica Olajide, healthcare worker, Auckland, originally from Nigeria

[When] Covid-19 first started, people who were wearing masks in the public were mostly Asians – and we were really aware. I think there were two different reasons [for wearing masks]. We find it culturally more acceptable to wear masks but also we didn’t want to be the one who is spreading the virus either.

But we were also targeted because we were wearing masks. This is better now, because perception [about wearing masks] has sort of changed, but the early experience was really interesting…somehow because we’re Asians and Korean, that we were somehow looked at as – are you guys the source of this virus, is that why you’re wearing a mask? There was that real stare, you know when you walk into supermarkets…I think that [the] mask is a great symbol, because actually – being Asian wearing a mask was actually being a really responsible New Zealand citizen.

– Dr Aram Kim, Korean Community Wellness Society, Auckland

The workshops represent the start of an active, ongoing process of working with participants to create content highlighting their perspectives on Te Papa’s Public Programmes, Curatorial and Digital platforms.

Making Histories workshop, February 2021. Photo by Sarah Jane D. Lipura

We will be sure to share these with you over the coming weeks and months.

Uncover the stories behind our emerging Covid-19 history collection

You can read about and view selected objects from our growing Covid-19 history collection on Collections Online.

This collection is currently being actively developed by curators from the History, Pacific Cultures, and Mātauranga Māori teams and we will add new objects as they are registered.

Curators will also provide their insights into the curatorial decisions involved in developing this national record of our history, which you’ll be able to keep up with on our Making Histories section of our website.

Printed poster saying "Two step guide to COVID-19: 1. Sneeze into the crook of your elbow 2. Don't be racist and xenophobic. Give nothing to Racism
Two step guide to COVID-19‘, Give Nothing to Racism campaign, Human Rights Commission. Gift of The New Zealand Human Rights Commission, 2020. Te Papa (GH025594)

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