Don't be afraid to be yourself was the key message given by emerging Rotorua artist Jessie Ngaio when she spoke at Waiariki Institute of Technology.
Ngaio, 27, a former Waiariki student now based in Melbourne, was invited by the institute to share ideas and offer advice to art students based on her experience as a professional artist.
Having held more than 20 exhibitions across New Zealand and Australia, she said the New Zealand art scene could be a little self-conscious and afraid of being playful which could hold back creativity.
"New Zealand artists are unique and they should always hold on to that thread of identity, but I recommend getting as far out of your comfort zone as possible and challenging yourself. They need to realise they don't have to prove anything and just need to be themselves."
Ngaio, who describes her style as a mix of pop-surrealism, lowbrow and video, said she often focused on ideas of gender and sexuality in her art.
"I feel it's really important to talk about these things. Sex is really quite normal so there is no reason why we should feel uncomfortable exploring it in art," she said.
"Conservative society where such things are not openly talked about can be damaging and can lead to constructed ideas of sexuality and gender becoming problems within communities."
Ngaio said that although she loved New Zealand and felt there was a lot of talent here, she made the move to Melbourne to grow creatively.
She left New Zealand in 2007 to gain her master's in fine arts at RMIT University in Melbourne after completing her advanced diploma of art and design at Waiariki.