Friday, January 11, 2013

Earthquake exhibition at National Library shares messages of recovery

As we approach the second anniversary of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, for many, the recovery journey continues.

A new exhibition at the National Library of New Zealand will give Wellingtonians the opportunity to reflect on the stories of those Cantabrians who lived through the earthquake, and discover the universal lessons learned from the aftermath, which are relevant to all New Zealanders.

The exhibition, by Christchurch-based photographer and writer Guy Frederick, is entitled ‘The Space Between Words’.  The series of photographs and narratives showcase a range of deeply personal and powerful stories told by 14 survivors of the Christchurch earthquakes.

After the February 2011 earthquake  - and with a 2011 NZ Mental Health Media Grant - Guy went out into the community and documented a cross-section of recovery stories.

The finished project shares the personal experiences of these individuals and their varied responses to the earthquakes. It features traditional portraits of each storyteller sitting in the same chair, but the background differs according to his or her story.

One woman sits amongst the rubble that used to be her back garden; another is seated inside her damaged house. The juxtaposition of the traditional poses with the unruly and deeply personal backgrounds lends the exhibition its intensity.

Guy’s exhibition is part of the library’s Big Data exhibition, a six-month public programme.

“Big Data is all about change,” says Guy. “Big Data explores, in part, the way that change is often not evolutionary but punctuated by a cataclysmic event, be it physical, social, technological - and that's exactly the type of change Cantabrians have had to deal with.

"One of the primary goals of my project was to share positive mental health messages.  Post-traumatic stress is generally associated with a one off event so, as the aftershocks have continued, so too have the compounding nature of their impact on mental distress.”

Guy hopes viewers will come away acknowledging that it is okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes, and when required to allow the time and space to heal without judgement. One of the most important messages is to ask for help when you need it – perhaps one of the hardest things for many New Zealanders to do.

Guy says the Turnbull Room is a great space for his exhibition. “It is a very contemplative space and there is a lot to reflect on in these stories. The stories shared by the individuals are not controversial or sensational. They are about the unspoken stuff - their thoughts and feelings. The room suits the subject material perfectly,” he says.
‘The Space Between Words’ exhibition is located on the ground floor of the Molesworth Street National Library, and is open to the public from 8.30am to 5.00pm, entry is free and the exhibition runs until April 30, 2013.

Guy’s project was funded by a 2011 New Zealand Mental Health Media Grant (

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