Last week the Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi welcomed three exceptional creatives into a circle of 20 of New Zealand's most significant living artists.
Established in 2003, the Icon Awards are the Arts Foundation's highest honour and recognise the remarkable impact each artist has had on their practice, community, and the cultural landscape of Aotearoa.
2020 marks a total of 41 artists honoured as Icons since the beginning of the awards. Twenty are living, and 21 have passed on.
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In the words of the Arts Foundation, these artists have "produced a significant and distinguished body of work, of outstanding quality and excellence. They may have an international standing or reputation (or in the case of an art form unique to Aotearoa, have demonstrated a mastery in their discipline equivalent to world standards)."
How fitting that one of these honours should go to local visual artist Dr Sandy Adsett MNZM, MMVA.
Actor Sam Neil, also made an Icon last week, spoke eloquently about the importance of artists such as Adsett for Aotearoa.
Neil said, "In New Zealand we like to think of ourselves as a country where sport defines us. I never felt like that. I thought I was lucky to live in a country deeply, profoundly enriched by its artists … [who] helped me to understand where I lived, where I came from, why I loved my country. All that beauty and harmony, the darkness and the light, the ridiculous and the splendid. They still do. They nourish me."
Adsett is Ngāti Kahungunu of Ngāti Pāhauwera hapu. Born in Wairoa, he grew up just out of Raupunga and attended Te Aute College.
Working throughout the country over his career, Adsett taught art to many generations of New Zealand kids and their teachers.
Some years ago, Adsett made a decision to return to Heretaunga at the behest of Ngāti Pāhauwera, who challenged him to come home and work with his people. It was to here that Adsett brought his world of knowledge, currently working as Adjunct Professor at Toi Māirangi in Heretaunga.
The Hawke's Bay Museum's Trust has a number of artworks by Adsett in its collection and two of these are currently on display in the exhibition Rongonui – Taonga mai ngā tāngata, ngā wāhi, me ngā takahanga: Treasured taonga from people, places and events. Hawke's Bay residents can be proud to have works of this quality in their collection.
These works are soon to be included in a survey exhibition of Adsett's, produced by Pataka Art + Museum in collaboration with Auckland Art Gallery.
No doubt Adsett is extraordinary and he sits amongst other artists from this region who have excellent national and international reputations.
These artists, like Adsett, make a unique contribution as the country's storytellers - art makers that help us to understand "where we come from" and "why we love this place".
Adsett's work brings a steadfastly Kahungunu voice which, as with the work of other Hawke's Bay artists in the collection, expresses a unique regional perspective at a national level.
The Trust Collection also holds works by other artists that have been displayed in the best public museums in the country. Ongoing acquisition of works of this quality ensures that the region has a significant collection and continues to make an active contribution to Aotearoa's art history.
Working behind the scenes the MTG Foundation are the philanthropic body who ensure that the region continues to make insightful purchases of art for this Trust Collection.
The foundation actively funds the purchase of new art, so that we can be confident that the voice of Te-Matau-a-Māui is, and will for generations to come, be loud and clear in the story and history of Aotearoa.
Toni MacKinnon is Art Curator at MTG