American Collections blog

What's on the mind of Team America?


Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

12 January 2018

Resources for engaging Māori contemporary culture and politics

Following on from my last post were I outlined some resources I have found useful for learning about contemporary Indigenous Australian issues; I have turned my attention to Māori resources in this post. As with the previous post, I have tried to provide resources that are written by Māori people, in some cases this is easier said than done as it is certainly not up to me to decide who is Māori and who is not. I am an outsider to Māori culture and this collection of resources is only intended to skim the surface in order to provide a few avenues for further research. If you think there is anything I have overlooked in this post or have other suggestions for me, I encourage you to tweet me: @JoannePilcher1


"The tools of the masters" #nzmaci #TeWānangaWhakairoRākauoAotearoa’. A carving from the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute shared on their Facebook page. They post many beautiful examples of Māori art and design.



Te Ara – The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand has been an invaluable resource for me, the website splits into themes that contexualise contemporary Māori life such as The Bush, The Settled Landscape and Economy and the City. It is possible to browse around topics based on these themes or it is an excellent place to go to read up on a specific issue but simply searching key words. They also feature stories and articles, for example this week’s featured story is Deep-sea Creatures – This website provides useful summaries of elements of contemporary Māori culture and their historical context. I particularly enjoyed looking at the section on Korero O Nehera (Stories of Old), which is a collection of traditional Māori stories written by Māori authors. It also includes a selection of further links to learn more about each of the themes it addresses.

Māori Television has a news section on their website that covers current affairs from a Māori perspective. The Headlines section gave an interesting overview all news and I found the Politics section really useful for understanding how Māori issues are represented within the political structures in New Zealand.

While New Zealand History is not a specifically Māori focused website, it has been recommended by other Māori sites as a useful resource for providing historical context on Māori culture. It provides a Brief pre-history of how Māori peoples came to settle in New Zealand as well as going into a lot of detail on key dates in Māori history. It also has a really useful section on the various wars that took place between different Māori tribes and the Pākehā (non-Māori New Zealanders) and how this shaped the treatment of Māori peoples in New Zealand today.

Online Journals

Mai Journal website,

He Pukenga Korero – A Journal of Māori Studies website

Facebook Pages

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s page discusses equality and human agency more broadly and often shares information relating to Māori issues.

New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute shares a wide array of Māori art and design for anyone interested in learning more about traditional Māori visual culture.

Māori Rights in NZ shares a range of posts, from more political think pieces to more community-based information.


Te Ahi Kaa – this podcast provides a bilingual discussion of various Māori experiences from the past, present and future.


There is a very wide selection of books on Māori New Zealand in the British Library collections. In this list I have outlined ones that provide a more general context of Māori beliefs and culture, I will be revisiting some of these titles in future blog posts.

Rawinia Higgins, Poia Rewi and Vincent Olsen-Reeder eds, The value of the Māori language /Te hua o te reo Māori, Wellington : Huia Publishers, 2014, [shelfmark: Asia, Pacific & Africa YP.2014.a.6419] A  bilingual collection of essays in Te Reo and English that discuss the importance of preventing the Māori language from dying out.

Tracey McIntosh and Malcolm Mulholland ed, Māori and social issues, Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Pub., 2011 [shelfmark: Asia, Pacific & Africa YD.2012.a.4357] This book is part of the same series as The value of the Māori language, it aims to highlight social issues faced by Māori people from their perspective and suggests solutions that are Māori-centred.

Cleve Barlow, Tikanga Whakaaro : key concepts in Maori culture, Auckland : Oxford University Press, 1991 [General Reference Collection YC.1991.a.5030] Written by a Māori man who comments that his combination of Māori upbringing and western style education has inspired the book's structure. He focuses in on key Māori themes, selecting ones that are most relevant to contemporary Māori life. Each entry is bilingual.

Tania Ka'ai, Ki te whaiao : an introduction to Māori culture and society, Auckland, N.Z. : Pearson Longman, 2004 [shelfmark: Document Supply m04/30485] This book is structured so that the first part focuses on the Māori world, Te Ao Māori, and the second, Ngā Ao e Rua (The Two Worlds), looks at how the worlds of the Māori and Pākehā have interacted and existed alongside each other throughout time.

Auckland Art Gallery, Pūrangiaho: seeing clearly: casting light on the legacy of tradition in contemporary Māori art, Auckland, N.Z. : Auckland Art Gallery, c2001 [shelfmark: General Reference Collection YA.2002.a.20895]. There is often a risk of associating the traditional art of First Peoples of any country as historical or anthropological objects. While they can be both historical and anthropological (like all artworks) they can also be considered as great pieces of contemporary art. This exhibition catalogue looks at how contemporary Māori artists have utilised traditional techniques in their work.


By Joanne Pilcher

PhD Placement Student

British Library and Brighton University

08 January 2018

The Garden of Good and Evil

Several months ago, I was privileged to see a preview of ‘The Garden of Good and Evil', Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar’s latest exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  Trained as a filmmaker and architect, Jaar’s work crosses mediums yet is consistently concerned with the human experience of political repression and socio-political power.  As such, he labels his work ‘public interventions’: they are direct confrontations to how we see the world and act in it, challenges to engage intellectually and respond ethically.

Having in the past dealt with such large and difficult subjects as Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship in 'Are You Happy', the Nicaraguan Civil War, the Rwandan Genocide in 'The Rwanda Project', US ethnocentrism in 'This Is Not America', and migration to the EU in 'One Million Finnish Passports', 'The Garden of Good and Evil' powerfully explores the space of so-called CIA ‘black sites’ of rendition and torture in a meticulous arrangement of steel cells amidst a tranquil copse.

Alfredo Jaar at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Courtesy the artist. Photo credit Jonty Wilde.

The retrospective work collected in the indoor gallery is similarly political in nature but by contrast is more directly concerned with two other recurring motifs in Jaar’s work: the ethics of representation and the value of the written word.  These concerns are perhaps best encapsulated by the poster ‘You Do Not Take A Photograph.  You Make It.’ (a phrase attributed to US photographer Ansel Adams) which visitors are invited to take home.  Variously referencened throughout the exhibition are also Antonio Gramsci, Samuel Beckett, and E.M. Cioran whose words have been transformed into glowing neon installations.

Alfredo Jaar, Be Afraid of the Enormity of the Possible, 2015. Courtesy of the artist, New York and YSP. Photo credit Jonty Wilde.

Taken from Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran's On The Heights of Despair (Pe culmile disperării), 'Be Afraid of the Enormity of the Possible' is exemplary of Jaar's artistic practice which works across forms, is robustly intellectual, and speaks to and of the world.

Shelfmark YF.2016.a.22972

Jaar's art is always in dialogue, and in being so it is lifted beyond a superficially nihilistic exploration of trauma.  Read in conjunction with the photographic and film works that form the remainder of the exhibition, these pieces act as a model for an alternative mode of viewing and interpreting the photojournalism of suffering and violence.  Indeed, he has said that he has been heavily influenced by photojournalist Koen Wessing, particularly the photobook recording the Chilean military dictatorship Chili September 1973.

Shelfmark RF.2017.b.37

Jaar engages directly with Wessing's photographs in his piece 'Shadows'.   In it, we see several photographs of two young women mourning their father who was murdered by the Nicaraguan National Guard.  The final enlarged projected photograph of their twisted bodies, faces pained with trauma is literally burnt onto the viewer's retina as the image fades leaving just their outlines in blinding white light: we are forcefully made aware of our relationship to these people, the damage that is caused by viewing, and the requirement to view.

Alfredo Jaar, Shadows, 2014. Courtesey the artist, New York and YSP. Photo credit Jonty Wilde.

The Library holds a number of Jaar's monographs which detail his career spanning several decades, and you can also find many of the literary, philosophical and photographic works referenced in his art in our collections.

Shelfmarks (L-R) YD.2006.a.7442; YF.2008.a.27629; YC.2014.a.260; m04/28398

 'The Garden of Good and Evil' runs at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 8 April 2018.

- Francisca Fuentes Rettig

25 December 2017

Andrew Salkey’s Christmas Mento….Sixty-four years later

Buried in Andrew Salkey’s personal archive amongst a file of scripts, forms, notes and letters, is an unpublished Christmas poem. Andrew Salkey, co-founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement, was a prolific writer-come-activist who made frequent contributions to the BBC. Nestled in a box, which contains his work with the BBC on programmes such as Calling the West Indies (which later became Calling the Caribbean), Caribbean Voices and the Caribbean Literary Magazine, was a typed copy of ‘Mento Theme No. 6’. Salkey described this as a ‘A poem on Christmas influenced by the Jamaican Dialect’. More specifically, it was in a folder that was particularly heavy with BBC rejection letters with returned poems attached that I discovered ‘Mento No. 6’.

Unable to ‘find any room’ in the BBC ‘First Reading’ radio programme for Salkey’s poem in 1953, the British Library America’s blog has found room for this poem’s much-delayed entry into the public sphere, sixty-four years later.


Salkey Mento Poem

Andrew Salkey Archive, BBC Files 1-3, DEP 103/016

Salkey’s poem reads as a creolised Christmas story, in which recognisable Christmas motifs and tales are recounted in patois, to a Mento tune and rhythm. Sometimes called the grandfather of reggae, Mento is a type of Jamaican folk music which fuses African and European musical traditions. The knowable tale of the star in the East which led the Three Wise Old Men, who brought ‘myrrh, gold and frankincense’, is followed (in true Salkey-style) by a mention of Anancy the Spider. Although not a traditional or known part of the Christmas story, Anancy is both known and traditional within the Black diaspora. A cunning folk trickster who travelled from West Africa, across the middle passage, to the New World, and later from the Caribbean to Britain, Anancy is a powerful and historic figure.

Salkey played a critical role in keeping the trope of Anancy alive, as demonstrated through his literary work which can be found at the library. Amongst a vast array of his work held in the British Library Collections, Anancy, Brother Anancy and Other Stories and his readings for the African Writer’s Club, which can be found on the British Library Sound webpage, are just a taste of Salkey’s contributions to West African and Caribbean folk revival.

This poem is a Mento through more than its rhythm and sound, it is a mento through the way it melds African and European cultural traditions.

Have a Merry Mento Christmas…..x

Naomi Oppenheim

Naomi is a PhD candidate on a CDP at the British Library and UCL. She is currently researching British-Caribbean popular culture and the politics of history in the post-war period.