16 Jul 2017

Māori artist Cliff Whiting dies aged 81

2:08 pm on 16 July 2017

Cliff Whiting, the master carver and leader in the Māori artistic renaissance, has died at the age of 81.

The remains of dozens of Māori and Moriori, taken overseas more than 100 years ago, were formally accepted at a ceremony at Te Papa on Monday 29 May 2017.

Cliff Whiting took a central role in developing Te Papa's marae (pictured). Photo: RNZ / Emile Donovan

A sculptor, painter, illustrator, printmaker and photographer, alongside his carving, he believed marae were the best places to combine the whole range of Māori art forms.

Dr Whiting was born and brought up at Te Kaha in the Bay of Plenty, with a Pākehā father and a mother from Te Whānau-ā-Apanui.

He trained as a teacher, worked as a school arts and crafts tutor, and lectured at Palmerston North Teachers College, where he helped develop the first marae on a tertiary campus.

He struck out in 1981 as a self-employed artist and consultant, based at Russell in the Bay of Islands. His works are displayed at the National Library, the MetService headquarters and many other buildings.

He became the chairman of the Māori and South Pacific Arts Council, and deputy chairman of the QE2 Arts Council.

In 1993, he was appointed director of Māori and bicultural development at the proposed Museum of New Zealand - now better known as Te Papa.

He took a central role in designing and developing its marae with its controversial use of custom wood-carvings and dramatically modern use of glass and other non-traditional materials.

Dr Whiting returned to consultancy work in 1998 but remained on a part-time contract as Te Papa's kaihautū, or leader.

Current kaihautū Arapata Hakiwai said the artist had embraced the idea of it as a bicultural museum.

"He loved that to the hilt because he could see that that's who we are as a nation," he said.

"It resonated with him... the conceptional foundation of Te Papa. It's a huge loss. [For] Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, his tribe, and Māoridom and our nation, there's a huge loss there."

In 2000, he was appointed kaumātua to Tourism New Zealand, to ensure Māori culture was correctly portrayed in tourism marketing.

In the 1999 New Year Honours, Dr Whiting was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand, the highest New Zealand honour.

The following year, he was awarded a doctorate of literature by Massey University in recognition of his contribution to the university and Māori visual culture.

He died in Whangarei.

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