170 objects to make you marvel: Mīharo Wonder: 100 Years of the Alexander Turnbull Library

Bringing to light rare treasures and curious artefacts to reflect moments in time and give insights into place, culture and people’s lives

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26 Feb – 2 Oct 2021


Te Ahumairangi, National Library

Cnr Molesworth & Aitken Streets

In te reo Māori, mīharo means to wonder, to admire and perhaps to be amazed. It was the starting point for the curators and it’s the response that they hope audiences will have when they experience the exhibition for themselves.

The exhibition was curated by Fiona Oliver and Peter Ireland to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Alexander Turnbull Library, which is part of the National Library of New Zealand. Alexander Turnbull (1868-1918) was an avid collector who made it his life's work to gather together, 'Anything whatever relating to this Colony [Aotearoa New Zealand], on its history, flora, fauna, geology & inhabitants, will be fish for my net, from as early a date as possible until now'.

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Echoing Turnbull's fishing net analogy, Mīharo opens with a commissioned artwork by Wellington artist Matthew McIntyre-Wilson based on hīnaki Māori fishing nets. Peter Ireland said the idea of a net resonated as a metaphor for the library as a collecting institution. 

Taking the Alexander Turnbull collections as their starting point, the curators started with a long list of millions of objects and reduced it down to fewer than two hundred for the exhibition. The exhibition has minimal labels and interpretation, rather, the curators prefer to the objects speak for themselves. Different objects will resonate with different people, and as visitors walk around the exhibition they may find that different objects call to them more strongly than others.

So what objects will you find in Mīharo Wonder? There’s a Japanese songbook made of cigarette packets by a Japanese prisoner-of-war killed in a riot at Featherston’s camp in 1943. There are tiny hand-sewn buttons made between 1803 and 1806 by French prisoners on the British-controlled island of Saint Helena.

There’s the 2.5m-high pen drawing representing New Zealand history as a kauri tree. There’s a painting by an unknown artist of a group of well-dressed picnickers crossing a log bridge in a remote setting on the West Coast. Go and visit the exhibition and discover the rest for yourself.  

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Entry is free to the exhibition and the National Library of New Zealand is open weekdays from 9am to 5pm and Saturday 9am to 1pm. Or check out the exhibition online anytime you like

Explore Mīharo Wonder online

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