Cliff Whiting, born 1936, is one of New Zealand ’s influential contemporary Maori artists.
He is highly esteemed in the field of Maori carving, having led carving and other traditional Maori art into the 20th century and forged new cultural directions for Maori art. This is demonstrated by his renowned and innovative use of bold colour and his unique treatment of form and shape. He is also known for promoting the importance of the role of marae in the maintenance of Maori arts and culture.
He has exhibited regularly in many New Zealand public art galleries, and his large-scale works are displayed in many prominent locations, such as the Christchurch High Court, the National Archives, and Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa). He has also been commissioned to produce art for the National Library of New Zealand, The Otago Museum, and Television New Zealand. His most recent work has been the completion of the Wharenui Tahu Potiki at Te Rau Aroha Marae in Bluff.
Cliff Whiting is notable for his creation of the marae, Te Marae, at Te Papa, which embraces the concept of mana taonga and the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. His use of customboard revolutionised the pattern which traditional meeting houses are based upon, thus challenging the misconceptions that Maori carving and contemporary art cannot be successfully fused together. He also developed this original style of meeting house at Maru Kaitatea at Takahanga Marae in Kaikoura.
He has also contributed significantly to the development of art education. For 15 years, he was an Art Advisor for the Department of Education and was involved in the introduction of Maori art in schools. Also, whilst he was a lecturer in Maori art at Palmerston North Teacher’s College, he introduced student marae visits; a concept which was not practiced at the time. Cliff Whiting was also one of the first Maori artists to illustrate for school publications such as Te Wharekura and Tautoko.
In 1995, he was made Kaihautu of Te Papa, a role in which he has explored Te Papa’s bicultural processes based on the Treaty of Waitangi, working closely with Te Papa staff and including local iwi in decision making.
His other public service roles include being a Founding Member and former Chairman of the Council for Maori and South Pacific Arts (now known as Te Waka Toi) and a Member and Deputy Chair of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council. He was also a Member of the Maori Advisory Board for the Historic Places Trust of New Zealand for over 15 years where he initiated conservation work on marae around New Zealand.
Dr Whiting received the Allan Highet Award in 1986 and has been awarded membership to Te Ara Whakerei, which acknowledges consistent excellence in the arts.
Citation prepared 1998