Keeping the waka moving forward

05 Dec, 2019
Jamey Bailey with a waka at the Smithsonian

Jamey Bailey loves to tell a good yarn, and thanks to a life-changing internship opportunity, his stories are now being shared on the global stage.

This year the AUT Communications graduate has been working as a Curatorial Assistant at the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum, education and research complex. A wingman to the Curator of Globalisation at the National Museum of Natural History, Jamey has had the chance to help showcase his Pacific heritage. Not only has it opened doors career-wise, but it has been the catalyst to a deeply personal journey of understanding and exploration.

“Initially I applied for a different internship but after reviewing my application, the AUT Internz team suggested I also apply for the Smithsonian. I’m so glad they did! They chose me and it was a no-brainer to accept such a massive opportunity,” says Jamey.

“My time away has allowed me to discover what kind of impact I want to have on the world and within my community. I’ve also made lifelong friends and can’t wait to work with them all again very soon.”

What began as a three month internship has stretched into an 11 month contract and has seen the passionate storyteller work his magic on a diverse range of cultural projects - including the Waka Symposium, the Mother Tongue Film Festival and the Summer Institute of Museum Anthropology.

Among Jamey’s highlights was a stint in Hilo, Hawaii documenting the work of some of the Pacific’s most talented master carvers at the Merrie Monarch Festival.

“The New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and their travelling expedition Tuku Iho first visited the Smithsonian in 2017, and at the end of the visit they gifted the Smithsonian the waka they had carved. A year later the carvers returned with friends they had met from Hawaii to inspect the museum’s oldest Polynesian canoe – Queen Kapiolani’s va’a. The work in Hawaii this year was a continuation of that, creating a replica of the Hawaiian va’a. My role was to document the carving.”

These experiences have had a profound impact.

“When I was an AUT student, I made a film called Plastic Polynesia which explored cultural identity among youth in Auckland. But it wasn’t until I flew 9000 miles away to intern at the Smithsonian that I really understood what it meant to be Polynesian.”

Now back on home soil, Jamey has been working as a Smithsonian photographer , documenting a culture lab hosted by the Auckland Museum as part of Tuia 250 - a programme commemorating 250 years since the first onshore meetings between Maori and Pakeha, and celebrating the voyaging heritage of Pacific people.

“The Tuia 250 project has been an awesome way to bring my internship to a close and has introduced me to a number of local people and artists who I would love to work with in the future.”

And what does that future look like?

“I’m considering taking my master’s at AUT, hopefully through Te Ara Poutama. I also want to work on my reo for both Samoan and Maori. If I could further my degree while doing so, that would be ideal. I feel these skills are necessary to progress in my career of cultural work and working overseas as a cultural representative, ambassador, consultant – and most importantly as a storyteller.”

While Jamey’s internship may be drawing to a close, the relationship between AUT and the Smithsonian is certainly not. Next year Jamey will pass his curatorial baton to AUT graduate Anahera Hare, who will be carrying on the good work in Washington building a meaningful exhibit around Tuku Iho’s waka.

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