Prime Minister John Key is backing his daughter over her latest series of artworks, which has attracted controversy because of its reference to native North American customs.

Stephanie Key posted the pictures online as she prepared to submit her portfolio at the Paris College of Art — an American private university with four campuses in Paris.

One of the pop-art style self-portraits, showing Key wearing an elaborate pink, feathered, war headdress, lacy pink knickers and a pink modesty star over her nipple, has been criticised for being culturally inappropriate.

In another shot, similar to the work of artist Pierre et Gilles, she is dressed in red PVC nurse's uniform as she dances alongside tampons superimposed over women's bodies.


New Zealand multimedia artist Lisa Reihana said Key, 21, was "a pretty young thing conforming to Western notions of beauty and soft porn is the norm in the fashion and music worlds. More problematic is the misuse of First Nations culture".

The war headdress of Native Americans and Canadian First Nations was used only for important occasions. Each eagle feather told a story and the wearer earned each feather in his or her headdress.

Desi Rodriguez Lonebear, a Native American Indian from the Northern Cheyenne tribe of Montana now based in New Zealand, said Key owes an apology to Native Americans and the tangata whenua of her own country.

"I think it's incredibly offensive and distasteful.''

Hamilton-based Lonebear said it was even more shocking that the work was by the prime minister's daughter, and called for the photo to be removed from the collection.

She's a pretty young thing conforming
to Western notions of beauty and soft
porn is the norm.

Lisa Reihana, fellow Kiwi artist

"I see a nearly nude woman posing in a war bonnet headdress and holding a peace pipe — the most sacred of objects. It's totally mocking.

"It's very offensive that it's Prime Minister John Key's daughter. [It's] is a huge slap in the face for race relations and ultimately the cultural competency that I have been privileged to witness in New Zealand."


Other artists were more welcoming of Key's latest work. Dick Frizzell commended her for having a go but described her style as more suited to advertising.

"Not much point in asking an artist what they think, not a 70-year-old artist anyway," Frizzell said. "It's pretty average graphic art, I would have thought."

Photographer Damien Nikora said the work made him smile.

"At first thought, I wondered what the reason for the concepts were,'' he said. "But I'm sure there is a controversial or thoughtful reason behind them.

"I know who she is and I'd invite her to come and shoot with me."

Pop artist Billy Apple said: "It's fun. Take the pretzel one. It's like a poster. It's popular culture."


Mr Key was questioned over his daughter's controversial art while speaking to media after his address at the National Party conference in Queenstown today.

He said he and his wife Bronagh were "proud of her".

"You've got to remember these pictures were taken off Facebook and [that's] probably something that wouldn't happen to any other art student studying in Paris.

"She's going to make her way in the world ... I hope she does well and I'm incredibly proud of her.

"She's going to have her own view of what art is.

"I hope she's happy and she's healthy and she pursues her dream."


Mr Key later said in a statement that his daughter would have her own view of what art was, and obviously others would admire or reject it.

"That is the nature of the art world."

Last year another series of Stephanie Key's self-portraits gained international attention after being highlighted in the Herald on Sunday.

In the photos she posed near-nude with strategically placed pieces of sushi covering her breasts and an octopus over her groin.

At the time, her father brushed off any criticism and said he was "really proud" of her.

Last week, promoters of the annual Rhythm and Vines music festival pulled advertising that included two young girls partying in native American headdress. The promoters also issued a public apology.


— additional reporting Otago Daily Times