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Award-winning artwork inspired by Maaori ancestors

11 September 2023

‘Tuiri Raa Te Rangi Ki Runga Tuiri Raa Te Whenua E Takoto Nei Oioi Nuku Oioi Rangi E Tihei Mauriora.’
‘Let me draw your attention to Ranginui the sky father and Papatuanuku the earth mother, our Protectors.’

An exhibition of compelling portraits by Maaori artists opens at Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato this Friday 15 September 2023.

On tour by the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata, the Kiingi Tuheitia Portraiture Award is a showcase of finalist and highly commended works, with Waikato Museum having the honour of being the first venue nationwide to host this travelling exhibition.

“This biennial competition provides emerging Maaori artists with the opportunity to showcase their talents on the national stage, while also playing an important role in recording and celebrating tuupuna (ancestors) and their stories,” said Liz Cotton, Director of Museum and Arts, Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato.

“The diverse creative expression within this exhibition is impressive, with the winning work for 2023 challenging the very definition of portraiture through its powerful symbolism.”

A partnership between the Office of the Kiingtanga and the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata, the award was launched in 2021 in honour of Kiingi Tuheitia. The 2023 award attracted portraits using a wide range of mediums including whakairo (carving), raranga (weaving), photography, ceramics, and oil paintings.

The 43 finalist artworks were judged by a distinguished panel comprising renowned Aotearoa New Zealand artists. They include portrait artist Graham Hoete aka "Mr G" (Ngati Awa, Ngai Te Rangi, Ngati Ranginui), researcher, artist, arts educator and curator, Steve Gibbs (Ngaai Taamanuhiri, Rongowhakaata, Rongomaiwahine), and artist Lisa Reihana (Ngaa Puhi, Ngaati Hine, Ngaai Tuuteauru, Ngaai Tupoto), who is known around the world for her portraits and digital art.

Earlier this year, Wellington-based Stevei Houkāmau, whose iwi affiliations include Ngaati Porou and Te Whanau-a-Apanui, was announced the winner of the 2023 Kiingi Tuheitia Portraiture Award and received a $20,000 cash prize.

Artist Stevei Houkāmau with her work ‘Kia Whakatōmuri te haere whakamua’, winner of the 2023 Kingii Tuheitia Portraiture Award. Photo by Juan Zarama Perini, The Post.

Stevei’s work ‘Kia Whakatōmuri te haere whakamua’ was chosen from an impressive 96 entries nationwide. Primarily made from uku (clay) and held together with strong wire, the sculpture can be displayed in many ways and was praised by the judges for the artist’s command of her chosen medium:

“Reminiscent of a necklace of touch stones, each individual bead is incised with patterns and tohu encoded with knowledge and completed with a raukura feather adornment at each end. The use of whatu raranga to bind the work together reflects how the artist has considered whakapapa connections as an integral aspect.”

The judges also gave honourable mentions to two artists with connections to the Waikato region. Tia Barrett (Ngaai Tahu, Ngaati Maniapoto, Ngaati Tamainupoo) was awarded for her photograph ‘A Time Capsule of Aroha’ depiciting her grandmother in her whare in Ngaaruawaahia, and Heramaahina Eketone (Waikato, Ngaati Maniapoto) for ‘Ngaa Houhanga Rongo’ (acrylic on MDF), a large heke (ceiling rafter) which will ultimately be installed at Mai Uenuku Ki Te Whenua Marae in Whaaingaroa Raglan.

The Kiingi Tuheitia Portraiture Award is open at Waikato Museum from 15 September 2023, 10am to 5pm daily. Entry is free.



For te reo Maaori, Waikato Museum uses double vowels (uu) in place of vowels with a macron (ū) to represent a long vowel sound. This spelling approach is the preference of tangata whenua in Hamilton Kirikiriroa and Waikato iwi for te reo Maaori words. Artists’ titles are shown in their original form.