The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery has said farewell to its senior curator of visual arts and design Ashleigh Whatling. Ms Whatling discussed with The Examiner how she came to find a love of curation, what she had learnt in Tasmania, and what was next.
Ms Whatling did not grow up wanting to be a curator, and said she was not sure many would as people often do not know what it entails. However, she had always been interested in stories.
When she finished studying a Bachelor of Arts, the question loomed of where to next until a happy coincidence. She was on the way to the Uni Bar one evening and found an open night for post-graduate courses.
Ms Whatling took a course that focused on museum and curatorial studies, which was undertaken in partnership with an art gallery in South Australia.
"Even then, I didn't think I wanted to be a curator," she said.
"The curatorial role is so public and I didn't have the confidence in myself to go down that path."
The gallery offered Ms Whatling a full-time job before she even finished her degree and in her role as a curatorial assistant she thought she wanted to be a registrar, but her boss told her she would be perfect as a curator.
"She said ... you're a curator, and I ignored her. I applied to be the registrar at QVMAG and had an interview, I didn't get it but they liked me, and they liked me for the curator role," she said.
"I became a curator and now I can't think of anything I'm better suited to."
When Ms Whatling started at QVMAG in 2017, she said she came from Adelaide "naked and afraid".
"To be honest, I don't think I knew what I was in for. I knew there were a lot of galleries, I knew the collection was important, significant," she said.
"But, I had no idea the scale of that collection. As I started to get a grip on things, I was somewhat overwhelmed."
Ms Whatling said her time learning to be a curator had been challenging, especially in moments where she dealt with events such as the missing Brett Whiteley artwork, but she built her confidence and was mentored well.
"When you're getting to know a collection it's a slow process and you just have to be patient," she said.
"I needed to understand that in a regional gallery, and this is what is so great about working in regional galleries, you get to tell something specific about place."
Ms Whatling learnt which stories had and had not been told in the collection and worked to help tell those she could in the recent rehang.
"If there is anything I hope people take away from the rehang it is that there are multiple truths to a story from multiple perspectives," she said.
"I honestly think that some of the reviews we have been getting and the notice it has got from the rest of Australia ... I'm so proud that QVMAG and Launceston are being noticed for the awesome, interesting, and diverse places they are.
"There are still heaps of stories in that rehang that haven't been told, but I started where I could and I hope I opened the door a little bit wider for the next curator."
Ms Whatling said Tasmania had always had a sense of mystery that bled through the arts and lured people in.
The curator finished her role at QVMAG earlier this month and has accepted the position of director at the Hervey Bay Regional Gallery, in Queensland.
"I think it's a really good thing for curators to not stay somewhere for too long because you do have a lot of control over the narrative. It's good to let other people have a go," Ms Whatling said.
The curator said she would love to come back to Tasmania to work again one day.
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