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Transgender Icon Immortalised in National Portrait Gallery

Transgender Icon Immortalised in National Portrait Gallery

31 March 2016

‘Carmen Rupe – The Final Portrait’ painted by New Zealand Contemporary Artist Te Mete was officially unveiled and gifted to the people of Wellington by MP Louisa Wall during a special ceremony held at the National Portrait Galleryon Wednesday. As of today (31st March), International Transgender Day of Visibility, Carmen will be on display at the Gallery for all to see.

Dr Keith Ovenden - Chairman of the New Zealand National Portrait Gallery said, “This is one of the most important and relevant pieces of Art in New Zealand’s History. Reminiscent of a time of a not so tolerant and understanding New Zealand; where Transgender, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Intersex people were shunned and poorly treated by officials and society for simply being themselves. This artwork will be cemented in our National history making Te Mete one of the most relevant Artists in our Country throughout history”

Gaelen Macdonald, Director of the New Zealand Portrait Gallery welcomed everyone to the presentation of the artwork to the City of Wellington. “I am grateful that an outstanding piece of New Zealand History will hang on our walls. This was such a soulful presentation at the Gallery where emotions were high. Te Mete’s work is an important part of New Zealand history for years to come”.

MP and Marriage Equality champion, Louisa Wall, presented the portrait to the Mayor of Wellington, Celia Wade-Brown. Mrs Wall purchased the painting during a fundraising auction in 2014. Wall said the portrait is “the first iconic member of the LGBTI community to hang on the walls of the National Portrait Gallery, which is pioneering for Te Mete, as his work is such an important part of New Zealand culture and it deserves to be enjoyed by everyone” which is why she has chosen to donate it to the people of Wellington. “Te Mete is an inspiration to his native Maori people and the LGBTI community among the rest of New Zealand and the world”. It is an appropriate acknowledgement of such a significant New Zealander who always strived to live an authentic existence. By doing so, Carmen paved the way for other people to come out of the darkness”.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown accepted the portrait on behalf of the people of Wellington and entrusted it to the National Portrait Gallery of New Zealand for safekeeping and public enjoyment. Mrs Wade-Brown said “Carmen was a pioneer and a true visionary of her time, and Te Mete did such an amazing job capturing her essence and spirit. I am honoured to handover the painting into the National Portrait Galleries collection to be the custodians of such an iconic example of fine contemporary New Zealand art”.

Dr Keith Ovenden, welcomed the art piece to the Gallery promising to look after it and invited Mrs Wall, Mayor Wade-Brown and Artist Te Mete to unveil the portrait together and officially welcome it into the museum.

Carmen Rupe (1936–2011) was a vivacious performer, businesswoman and brothel keeper, and LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS activist. She was a cultural icon in the transgender community who paved the way for many transgender men and women after her, and has been named a role model for many, including Georgina Beyer, the world’s first openly transsexual mayor.
In 1977 Carmen ran for mayor of Wellington. She supported gay marriage, legalized prostitution, sex education in schools, nude beaches, and decriminalized abortion. Though she didn’t win, all of her reforms are now legal in New Zealand.

Carmen Rupe- the Final Portrait of by Te Mete is currently on display and available for public viewing in the National Portrait Gallery, Shed 11 on Customhouse Quay opposite Johnston St, Wellington Waterfront.

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