Kendrah Morgan curator at Heide Museum of Modern Art: What travel has taught me


A curator at Heide Museum of Modern Art in Victoria since 2003, Kendrah Morgan has overseen significant exhibitions featuring the likes of Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan and authored several art-related books. Joy Hester: Remember Me is on at Heide till June 14. See


When I was 17 I was awarded a scholarship to study in the US. Having emphasised my strong interest in arts and culture in my application, I anticipated going to an exciting cosmopolitan location – New York was high on the list. To my bafflement, I was sent to a tiny town in Nebraska, at the heart of the ultra-conservative corn belt where the nearest art gallery was several hours' drive away. For a city kid it was certainly a culture shock, amplified by the fact that for the first few weeks no one understood a word I said. I learned a lot about resilience that year, and the determination to see something through — definitely a good life lesson.


Having studied Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, when I first went to Europe I was overwhelmed to finally see so many of the artworks I'd only known through lectures and publications. I distinctly remember the extraordinary beauty of Bernini's sculpture of the Blessed Lodovica Albertoni in a chapel bathed in diffused light — it took my breath away. Since then I've had the good fortune to have spent countless hours looking at art in all kinds of contexts and when I find myself moved by an artwork I recapture a little of that sense of wonder I first experienced.


Travelling heightens your awareness of people whose lives are less fortunate than your own. I was in New York (yes, I finally got there) staying with my cousin in Brooklyn. He took me up to the roof of his brownstone apartment to look at the Manhattan skyline and described how on 9/11 he stood there watching the Twin Towers collapse, only to be further distressed by the sudden scream of his landlady in the ground floor apartment, who had just discovered that her husband was in one of the buildings. The tragedy and pain that some people go through puts everything in perspective, and compassion for others is something we can never have enough of.


I've travelled on numerous occasions for work with my colleague Lesley Harding, Heide Museum of Modern Art's artistic director. As Heide is a not-for-profit we're always on a tight budget, which means sharing hotel rooms and living and working in one another's pockets. This would test some friendships but I think it has made ours closer. Lesley is a great travel companion and we have had a few adventures, from being chased by a bull at the Sidney Nolan Trust property on the Welsh border to an unexpected invitation to view a Barbara Hepworth sculpture at no. 10 Downing Street, where we had tea in the PM's garden. Travel memories are made even better when created with a close friend.