Robyn Kahukiwa is an artist and illustrator born in Sydney, Australia on September 14, 1940 (Kahukiwa, 1995). She is part Māori on her mother’s side and is of Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngāti Hau, Ngāti Konohi and Whānau-a-Ruataupare descent (Kahukiwa, 2015). Kahukiwa trained as a commercial artist in Adelaide before returning to New Zealand at age 19, taking up residence in Greymouth.
The content of Kahukiwa’s work is a reflection of her cultural identity that was formed upon returning to New Zealand. She is renowned for the depiction of motherhood and matriarchy within a Maori cultural context, and strong socio-political themes such as colonialism, institutionalised racism and indigenous issues (Mane-Wheoki, 2014).
Having had no formal training, Kahukiwa is mostly self-taught (Mane-Wheoki, 2014) and was identified as a Naïve painter by Neil Rowe after he viewed her early paintings in the seventies (Kahukiwa. 1984).
Significant events of the seventies such as the 1975 Hikoi (Land March) and Treaty of Waitangi Act inspired Kahukiwa to produce works about the Treaty issues and helped her to re affirm her identity as Māori (Kahukiwa, 1994).
Socio-political and cultural issues are strong and recurrent themes in her work, as is the concept of mana wāhine (Kahukiwa, 2005). One of her most famous works, Hine Tītama, was first showcased in her Wahine Toa exhibition of 1983-84, in which Kahukiwa examines Māori cosmology and genealogy with particular focus on the female characters (Kahukiwa, 2005). As stated by Hinemoa Hilliard in The Art of Robyn Kahukiwa (2005, pg 16), “the guiding principles that have helped steer her course have been the wish to uphold Māori cultural values, to uplift and empower Māori people (women and children in particular) and to contribute to our understanding of the history and whakapapa of our country”. These guiding principles were evident in the maternal empathy shown to the disenfranchised Māori and Pacific youth she taught while art teacher at Mana College from 1972 – 1982 (Mane-Wheoki, 2014).
While the subject matter of her work is almost exclusively Māori, Kahukiwa herself has identified Paul Gauguin, Colin McCahon and Frida Kahlo as early influences on her art (Kahukiwa, 1995). Parallels have also been drawn between her work and that of Ralph Hotere on account of the political themes and use of text (Kahukiwa, 2015).
Kahukiwa’s prominence has allowed her to support herself as a full-time artist since the 1980s (Kahukiwa, 2005), and she now holds a firm place in history as one of the most influential females in New Zealand art. Her work continues to generate discussion on cultural and political issues, and her status as a role model and leader continues to inspire the current generation of Māori female artists.
Kahukiwa, R. (1984). Wahine Toa: Women of Maori Myth. Auckland, New Zealand: William Collins Publishers Ltd.
Kahukiwa, R. (1995). Toi Ata – Robyn Kahukiwa. Auckland, New Zealand: Arts Council of New Zealand: Toi Aotearoa.
Kahukiwa, R. (2005). The Art of Robyn Kahukiwa. Auckland, New Zealand: Reed Publishing.
Mason, N., Mane-Wheoki, J., White, A., Borell, N., Hillary, S., Furey, L. (2014). Five Māori Painters. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.
Robyn Kahukiwa. (2015, 8 July). Retrieved 8 September, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robyn_Kahukiwa