Maori artist extraordinaire, leader, Cliff Whiting dies aged 81

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

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

Dr Whiting was born and brought up at Te Kaha in the Bay of Plenty, with a Paheha father and a mother from Te Whanau-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.

In 1993, he was appointed director of Maori 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 kaihauta, or leader. Current kaihauta Arapata Hakiwai said the artist had embraced the idea of it as a bicultural museum.

“It resonated with him … the conceptional foundation of Te Papa. It’s a huge loss. Te Whanau-Apanui, his tribe, and Maoridom and our nation, there’s a huge loss there.”

In 2000, he was appointed kaumatua to Tourism New Zealand, to ensure Maori 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.

He died in Whangarei.

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

He died in Whangarei.

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