Currently on view at the Waikato Museum are works from all finalists in the 2023 National Contemporary Art Award, including the winning work, Tawhai Rickard’s Scenes from a Victorian Restaurant (2023). Rickard’s installation features a small table and two chairs painted a bright, glossy red, above which hangs a row of portraits in elaborate frames, the figures painted in Rickard’s signature style, in hieroglyphic profile and elaborate costume, words emanating from long scrolls instead of speech bubbles. One sporting an elaborate tā moko and dinner jacket declares, “Good morning, I am your host, Dexter Fitzgibbons” into an old-style ear trumpet, a gesture to the character Billy T James played in his television debut in the early 80s as an English compere for Radio Times. Like all of Rickard’s works, Scenes presents a detailed narrative that attests to the complicated history of Aotearoa New Zealand and the ambivalence of its biculturalism. The empty seats perhaps stand, in this context, as an invitation to engage with those tensions and with one another through the work.
Runner Up was awarded to 박성환 Sung Hwan Bobby Park for BTM 조상 초상화 Ancestor Portrait (2023), a photographic portrait of the artist wearing one of his ceramic helmets, an ongoing body of work inspired by Park’s experience of compulsory military service in South Korea as a gay man. Adorned with spikes, the helmet speaks to the hostility of the military institution, requiring constant alertness from the individual who does not conform to its regime. Park wears the helmet with a custom 단령 danryung jacket, made by Steven Junil Park, that bears a 흉배 hyungbae embroidered square depicting a unicorn distributing PrEP pills to the world as it flies above, in a strong-headed avowal of his identity and sexual freedom.
Both Sara (Hera) Tautuku Orme and Hannah Ireland received Merit Awards, with the People’s Choice Award to be announced at the exhibition’s end. These works and almost forty others will be on view until 12 November.