Painting of leading Māori environmental activist wins 2024 Adam Portraiture Award

6:36 pm on 22 May 2024
Maryanne Shearman with her winning portrait of Tuhi-Ao Bailey.

Maryanne Shearman with her winning portrait of Tuhi-Ao Bailey. Photo: Supplied

Taranaki artist Maryanne Shearman has been announced as the winner of the Adam Portraiture Award for her portrait of climate champion Tuhi-Ao Bailey.

Her work Tuhi-Ao, an oil painting on canvas was chosen as the winner of the award and a $20,000 cash prize - from a record breaking 451 entries nationwide and 37 finalists at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata.

Shearman grew up in Lower Hutt but now lives in Ōakura in Taranaki. She said she was still amazed and surprised at receiving the award - but hugely honoured.

She started thinking about this painting two years ago and approached Tuhi-Ao Bailey about capturing her likeness in the māra (garden) of Parihaka.

"I thought very carefully about who I would want to paint, I wanted to paint someone who had a kōrero in their karu, who embodied their kaupapa, someone whose message was in their body in their eyes, and that's Tuhi-Ao.

"This feels like the culmination actually of a lot of really hidden hard work, long hours. I didn't go to art school so what I do is just from discipline and constantly improving myself."

Shearman said she hopes the award can help open a lot of gallery doors for her in the future, but for now the only plan was to keep painting.

"Kei the pīrangi ahau ki te mihi atu ki te wahine toa rā ki Tuhi-Ao Bailey, ki tōna kaupapa hoki. Ko ia tēnā e whawhai ana mo te kaitiakitanga o Papatuānuku koira tōna kaupapa, nō reira ki a ia, ki Maata Wharehoka te pūtake o tōku haeranga ki roto i te ao o te whakaahua o ngā tangata, tēnā kōrua. Ko kōrua ōku hoa, ōku pūtake, ōku ranga wairua."

"I want to thank Tuhi-Ao Bailey and her kaupapa. She is out there fighting for the environment and for the protection of Papatuānuku, so to her and to Maata Wharehoka who inspired my journey into the world of portraiture thank you both. You are my friends, my base, my inspiration."

Christchurch Art Gallery lead curator Felicity Milburn worked alongside New Zealand artist Karl Maughan to select the shortlist and eventual winner.

Shearman was able to represent the varied environment of the māra kai around Tuhi-Ao with authenticity and accuracy while keeping the focus always on the subject, Milburn said.

"I think it was a really ambitious work but ambitious for the right reasons, not an artist showing off but an artist who wanted to present their subject in a way that honoured the mana of their subject.

"So in order to do that Maryanne decided that she needed to show Tuhi-Ao in the context of the food forrest and that is an incredibly difficult thing to do."

It was a strong group of artists which pulled out a variety of art but also made choosing a winner tough, she said.

"There are also artists taking things in really unusual different directions, quite a lot of humour which was really nice to see, and I think really focusing on that connection between the subject and the viewer. One of the reasons portraits are so fascinating is because they are about people."

The Adam Portraiture Award exhibition will run at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in Shed 11 on Wellington's waterfront from 23 May to 11 August 2024, after that, the exhibition will be touring nationally.

The public can also vote for their choice to win the People's Choice Award - a cash prize of $2500, announced at the close of the exhibition.