The National Basement


The National Basement
Emil McAvoy
Old Government House
University of Auckland
27 July – 22 September 2020

Excerpt from accompanying essay by Emil McAvoy

The National Basement is a curated selection of unique photographs drawn from Archives New Zealand’s National
Publicity Studios collection which were never intended to be made public. The images are internal documentation of
promotional displays produced by the National Publicity Studios (NPS) which contain official government commissioned photography, painting, illustration, typography and design.

These displays present an idealised picture of the nation deployed in the promotion of tourism, trade and positive public relations. The displays have since been lost or destroyed, and these unusual and previously unpublished photographs remain the only trace of their existence. Echoing this situation, once ubiquitous NPS images are now largely invisible. Further, with remarkably little information remaining on the NPS, and the public lives of the images it produced, one might also see these archives as ‘found photographs’ which pose more questions than they answer…


Exhibition history

This exhibition is an outcome of the Archives New Zealand 50th Anniversary Scholarship which provided seed funding and privileged research access to the New Zealand Government’s National Publicity Studios Collection. It was further developed through postgraduate study at the University of Auckland and a University of Auckland Postgraduate Summer Research Scholarship. It was first released under the title Issues & Returns: Borrowings from the National Publicity Studios Archive as part of a postgraduate exhibition at the Elam School of Fine Arts in 2010.

The project was revised and expanded, with its major public premiere in the group exhibition ‘This is New Zealand’ at City Gallery Wellington in 2018, curated by Robert Leonard and Aaron Lister with Moya Lawson. This was also made possible by research funding and support from Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design. The National Basement at Old Government House, University of Auckland, is its second major exhibition and a return home to a key site in its primary development.

The artist acknowledges the support of Archives New Zealand, University of Auckland, City Gallery Wellington, Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design, and the many individuals who have contributed to its realisation.

Lead image credit above

AAQT6401-A51176, published with permission, Archives New Zealand, The Department of Internal Affairs Te Tari Taiwhenua.

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