The stories of Kiwi returnees and Hamilton’s frontline workers are being told through a new exhibition at Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga O Waikato.
The exhibition, titled ‘Thanks from Iso’, illustrates New Zealand’s managed quarantine journey during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since March 2020, more than 190,000 returnees have spent a mandatory fortnight in 32 Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities around the country, including three Waikato locations: Ibis Tainui Hamilton, Distinction Hamilton and Jet Park Hotel Hamilton Airport.
“By adding a local flavour to touring artworks and exhibits executed and delivered by Accor NZ, the Waikato exhibition offers an insight into the daily life of those who work and stay in the facilities,” Hamilton City Council said in a statement.
The gallery reveals two sides to the MIQ experience, showcasing both a hotel room set up for returnees and the ‘behind the scenes’ efforts carried out by frontline staff. The exhibition includes artworks and anonymised letters of thanks from people who have experienced managed isolation.
MIQ Central Regional Operations Manager, Hayley McConnell says more than 350 staff work in Hamilton’s facilities including hotel, Police, health and security staff. Nationally there are more than 5000 MIQ staff working for around 350 different employers collaborating to run the system.
“Caring for people in managed isolation and quarantine has been a new and unique challenge for our country. This exhibition brings that local story to life and enables the wider community to share in the experience. Waikato has added its own special touch to the work because of its strong commitment to manaakitanga led by Kiingi Tuuheitia,” she said.
The exhibition also includes illustrations by artist, Ruby Jones, created during a fortnight residency at an Auckland art gallery supported by hotel group Accor NZ, and inspired by interviews with MIQ staff and messages from grateful returnees. Ruby has captured the shared feelings and experiences of New Zealanders before, with an illustration she created after the 15 March Mosque Attacks reaching a global audience.
“I took notes from what each person shared with me and that formed the basis for the following day’s illustration,” she said.
“Some of the drawings were fully focused on one person’s story – like the baby who took their first steps in MIQ and how the staff were so excited to share that milestone with the family.
“I shared tears and laughter, fears and loss, and journeys that were bigger than the hours spent sitting on the plane or in the hotel. It was easily one of the most special and moving projects I have ever been a part of,” said Ruby.
Thanks from Iso is open 10am to 5pm every day until March 13, 2022 at Waikato Museum.