Museum honouring Ans Westra opens in Wellington

Museum honouring Ans Westra opens in Wellington

Ans Westra's body of work has been described as the most comprehensive visual record of Maori culture ever.

Now for the first time her photography will have a permanent home in Wellington, in a museum honouring 55 years of Kiwi images.

At 79 years old, Westra still keeps busy with photography.

But it's her work documenting Maori life during the 1960s that she's most well-known for.

"Often they would corner me and want to talk politics first," she says. "And I would have been the only European with an interest."

Westra first came here from the Netherlands in 1957, her interest in Maori sparked by the contrast with her life back home.

"Little Dutch children who were asked to perform on the piano for visitors ... [were] not given the same freedom [as Maori]."

Arguably her most famous project is Washday at the Pa, an illustrated children's book about the lives of a rural Maori family.

Westra Museum Director David Alsop says without her, large parts of Maori life during the 60s wouldn't have been visually recorded.

"It's uncharted, unparalleled," he says.

"It's very, very important for New Zealand history -- specifically for the people in the pictures, but also for New Zealand culture generally."

Westra's extensive body of work is being honoured at a museum above Wellington's Suite Gallery.

The museum was Mr Alsop's idea and it's been years in the making.

It's more than just a gallery of her photos, including one of her cameras, her darkroom set, and a reading area with a full download of all the material from the National Library.

The hardest part was choosing which photos to display from Westra's career, which spanned more than 50 years.

"We had a pool of prints that we prepared and had framed and had ready to hang, but even when we were hanging it was difficult choosing one over the other," Mr Alsop says.

The collection on display will be fluid, allowing Westra's extensive work to be suitably celebrated.