Robyn Kahukiwa is one of the foremost Māori artists in New Zealand. Kahukiwa’s work is often celebrated for its contribution to the evolution of traditional and contemporary Māori art, and her interweaving of art and politics.
Australian born, Kahukiwa lost connection with her culture and family until her return to Aotearoa at age nineteen. The rediscovery of her Māori heritage was the catalyst to her becoming a renowned thinker and maker. In the 1960s and ’70s, as a young mother living in the state housing units of Wellington, Robyn Kahukiwa began quietly producing artworks depicting marginalisation, dis- empowerment and spiritual displacement. The events of the mid-1970s such as the Hikoi (Land March on Parliament) and the passing of the Treaty of Waitangi Act further determined her interest in issues relevant to Māori. She embarked on a body of work that crossed between ambitious protest style paintings, illustrative work and text rich pieces.
Today, Kahukiwa’s art remains true to the core ideas of her early work. While Kahukiwa’s themes remain activist in nature, often exploring complex and fraught ideas of the dissolution of Māori identity, resettlement and cultural identity; her compositions are increasingly uncluttered and restrained, featuring only her powerful and select motifs. Now in her 80s, with a significant body of work behind her, there is a sense that her making has served as a form of therapy, a spiritual and cultural healing. As Kahukiwa describes: “The reality of Māori life today has got to be put by me on canvas, because otherwise I have to think about it myself…that’s how I can deal with it.”
Kahukiwa has work in notable collections across New Zealand including Te Papa, Auckland Art Gallery, MFAT and the University of Auckland. Te Papa museum currently holds 23 Kahukiwa works in their collection and the Auckland Art Gallery have several major works. In 2011, Kahukiwa was awarded with the Te Tohu Toi Kē Award from Te Waka Toi, the Māori arm of Creative New Zealand.