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60 Kuia of the Wairarapa


An exhibition - and book - of 60 portraits of Kuia across the Wairarapa, opens at Aratoi Museum, 12 Bruce St, Masterton, Wairarapa.

Opening reception: March 23, Friday, 5:30pm

Artist talk: March 24, Saturday, 11am - 12 noon

Book: $49 from Aratoi

Exhibition continues until May 6

60 Kuia of the Wairarapa

Portrait of Nanny Angie

“I came to Wairarapa as an infant,” says Kiri Riwai-Couch, of Ngāti Hine and Ngāti Pukenga. “The place has given me so much and this [photographing Kuia] is my way of giving back.”

Kiri, her whānau, and Aratoi invite everyone to Kuia+, an exhibition of 60 black-and-white portraits.

To make the portraits, Kiri posed each Kuia in front of the same portable black backdrop. One Kuia sang throughout the photography shoot. One never stopped laughing. One prepared by having her hair done, her nails painted, and choosing a beautiful dress to wear. One Kuia has cerebral palsy. One has had a double mastectomy. At least one uses a walker or cane for mobility, but these are unseen. One no longer keeps her own greenstone, so borrowed Kiri’s daughter’s stone for the sitting. One owns a Gottfried Lindauer painting and has loaned it to Aratoi on occasion.

Several women say their portrait will be used at their funeral, and fifteen of the sixty women have passed on – their portraits will be altogether in an area of the gallery marked ‘He Maumahara’.

“It is such a privilege to be surrounded by such wise and magnificent women," says Kiri. "Each has inspired me in their own way. I know them all personally and affectionately.”

Kuia+ is supported by Masterton Creative Communities Scheme.

The exhibition is accompanied by a beautiful book ($49), designed by Kiri herself.

At the close of the exhibition, Kiri is gifting the portraits to Aratoi so that all sixty Kuia can remain together in the public collection.


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