Nigel Borell - newly appointed Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit

By Marena Mane
Photo / File

Nigel Borell (Pirirākau, Ngāiterangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Te Whakatōhea) was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in this year's New Year Honours for his services to Māori art.  He is an artist, curator, researcher and Māori art advocate. 

Borell’s contribution to Māori arts development spans working on three meetinghouse projects under tohunga whakairo Pakariki Harrison from 1995 to 2000, through to his curatorial practice, curating numerous Māori art exhibitions. 

He was Associate Curator Māori Art at Auckland War Memorial Museum in 2013 and Curator Māori Art at Auckland Art Gallery in 2015. 

In 2020 he curated Toi Tū Toi Ora, Auckland Art Gallery’s largest exhibition of Māori art and the most attended exhibition since 1989, with 191,000 visitors over its four-month run. 

Borell resigned as curator Māori at Auckland Art Gallery in January 2021 soon after the Toi Tū Toi Ora exhibition opened referencing "major issues" regarding the level of control he was allowed over the exhibition, which was the largest in the gallery's 130-year history and featured over 300 pieces of art by more than 100 Māori artists.

Nigel Borell, 2021 Arts Foundation Laureate receiving the Moment in Time Award He Momo from The Arts Foundation on Vimeo.

He received the Art Foundation’s inaugural He Momo – A Moment In Time Award for this exhibition. 

"Our inaugural recipient is Nigel Borell, Māori arts curator, the creative mind behind Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art – the landmark survey exhibition that marks a true moment in time for Aotearoa’s arts landscape," the Arts Foundation said in a statement.

Other curatorial projects include ‘The Māori Portraits: Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand’, which toured to deYoung Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco in 2017, and contributed to the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial, Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane in 2018. 

Borell was involved with the First Nations Indigenous Curators Exchange Programme from 2015 to 2017 between New Zealand, Canada and Australia. 

He contributed to ‘Becoming Our Future’ (2020), a publication engaging in the discourse of indigenous curatorial practice in these countries. 

Borell is also a trustee and curator of the new The Wairau Māori Art Gallery in the Hundertwasser Building in Whangarei, which is the first public Māori art gallery solely dedicated to profiling Māori artists and curators. It will be officially opened on 13 February, with an inaugural exhibition, Puhi Ariki, curated by Borell himself.

Borell will start the new year with a new role, Curator Taonga Māori, with the Auckland War Memorial Museum.