Heather Straka’s insightful explorations into perceptions of socio-political and cultural lives have created a significant body of compelling and controversial work, including her Maori Chiefs series of adjusted portraits by Victorian artists, her Asian Girl series that slyly references western perceptions of art, authenticity and authorship, her Burqa Babe series that confounds stereotypical readings of particular cultural practices. Straka demonstrates technical control of her medium and coupled with a finely modulated handling of her contentious subject matter, she deftly questions tradition, challenges the politically correct, and subverts expectations.
Studying sculpture at the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts in the early 90s, Straka honed an acute attention to detail that she later carried through to her painting practice, a shift made in France. Scarcity of sculptural materials and proximity to the great paintings of Europe informed the refocus of her practice. Straka returned to New Zealand and exhibited her first painting show in 1998, later graduating with an MFA from Canterbury School of Fine Arts in 2000.
Since the turn of the century Straka has been awarded several scholarships and residencies. In 2002 she was presented the Pierce Low Award for Excellence in Painting from the Royal Overseas League, London. Straka was awarded New Zealand’s esteemed Frances Hodgkins Fellowship in 2008, and the William Hodges Fellowship in 2011. Her prolific exhibition history spans two decades and her work is held in all of New Zealand’s major public collections.