Lindah Lepou wins inaugural Toi Kō Iriiri Queer Arts Award

The Sāmoan and Pālangi artist traverses fashion design, photography, and performance.

The Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi Laureate Awards are conferred on outstanding artists. Recipients represent a who’s who in our arts and cultural sector. However, the Foundation recently began to layer in support for communities of interest within the sector. In 2019, the Theresa Gattung Female Arts Practitioner Award was introduced to address gender equity. At the time it was established, 66 percent of Arts Foundation Laureates were men. And, in 2020, Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Award was established, in partnership with Jillian Friedlander, to support outstanding Māori and Pasifika creatives.

The Toi Kō Iriiri Queer Arts Award is the Foundation’s latest move. It was given its Māori name by Green Party MP and queer activist Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, and selection panels will carry her interpretation of Toi Kō Iriiri to their adjudications: art that transforms, that moves us in or out of discomfort, but always to a new place. The $30k award has been funded for ten years by a gift from philanthropist and Arts Foundation trustee Cameron Hall. It will be made annually to “an outstanding artist or collective of artists whose work is representative of the queer community and is making a contribution to social change.”

The winner of the inaugural 2022 award is fashion designer, photographer, and performer Lindah Lepou, of Sāmoan and Pālangi descent. Her designs feature Pasifika elements and make innovative use of traditional materials. Over the past twenty-five years, she’s forged a reputation for her one-off garments, which she calls ‘Pacific couture’— distinguishing them from Pacific ‘fashion’ and ‘fashion art’. The Foundation says, “Her work sits at the intersection of fashion, art, and her fa‘afafine identity—creating a visual language that has paved the way for those following in her footsteps.”

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