Cliff Whiting

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Cliff Whiting

Cliff Whiting (cropped).jpg
Whiting in 2013
Clifford Hamilton Whiting

(1936-05-06)6 May 1936
Te Kaha, New Zealand
Died16 July 2017(2017-07-16) (aged 81)
Whangarei, New Zealand
Alma materWellington Teachers' College
Known forPainting, carving
Notable work
Te Marae (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

Clifford Hamilton Whiting ONZ (6 May 1936 – 16 July 2017) was a New Zealand Māori artist, heritage advocate and teacher. Whiting was born and raised in Te Kaha, New Zealand, and affiliated to the Te Whānau-ā-Apanui tribe.


In 1955, Whiting began teacher training at Wellington Teachers' College where his artistic talents were quickly recognised. His teacher training coincided with the Department of Education's drive to develop Māori and Western European culture in schools. Whiting was selected as a district advisor in arts and crafts and, with other young Māori artists including John Bevan Ford, Sandy Adsett, Cath Brown, Ralph Hotere, Paratene Matchitt, Muru Walters, and Marilyn Webb, was supported and encouraged by Gordon Tovey, the national supervisor for arts and crafts,[1] to explore and promote traditional and contemporary Māori art within the New Zealand educational system.[2][3]

As a district advisor Whiting worked with local Māori communities as well as schools to encourage engagement with Māori art. Constrained by the price and lack of availability of traditional timbers and tools he explored and encouraged the use of modern materials, especially particle and hard boards, and bold colours. These new materials and techniques combined with traditional subjects contributed to the development of his innovative artistic style.

During the 1970s Whiting accepted the position of lecturer in Māori art at Palmerston North Teachers' College where he introduced the concept of student marae visits and continued to encourage the inclusion of Māori art in schools. In 1979 he directed and led the carving, kōwhaiwhai, painting and kākaho panels of the college's wharenui Te Kupenga o Te Mātauranga.[4]

Whiting's work with Māori communities and his belief in the importance on the role of the marae in maintaining and revitalising Māori arts and culture led him to contribute to and lead in restoring historic wharenui (carved meeting houses) and other marae buildings. He was encouraged in this by Pineamine Taiapa, a renowned, traditionally trained carver and a relation of Whiting's on his mother's side of the family.[5] Whiting joined the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and in 1974 served on the trust's Māori Heritage Advisory Committee. He also worked with the Historic Places Trust as the Māori buildings adviser and become a leading authority on the restoration of Māori buildings. Whiting participated in the Historic Places Trust's first marae conservation project at Manutuke. It had always been the Trust's policy to work in partnership with iwi and hapū when restoring marae. Whiting felt that it was his role to establish and maintain a close connection between the trust and those iwi (tribes) participating in the various projects.[6]


An ornamental gateway named "Te Kūwaha o Wharetutu" carved by Whiting, from the collection of the Ethnological Museum of Berlin

Whiting also continued to develop his art. He was one of the first Māori artists to illustrate for school publications such as Te Wharekura and Tautoko. He also regularly accepted commissions for large-scale murals including:

He also completed murals for:

  • Otago Museum
  • Television New Zealand
  • Archives New Zealand
  • The Waitangi Tribunal.

His work is featured in the collections of:

Arts administration[edit]

layers of colurful Māori carvings foming the meeting house with a raised wooden floor forming a small stage, carpet and chairs in the foreground. An adult and child are walking through the space.
Meeting house Te Hono ki Hawaiki at Rongomaraeroa, the contemporary marae inside Te Papa Tongarewa

Whiting became involved in arts administration and in 1979 was appointed to the Council for Māori and Pacific Arts (now known as Te Waka Toi). He became the chairman in 1988.[8] He was also a member and deputy chair of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council (now known as Creative New Zealand). In 1995 he was appointed Kaihautū of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa where he led the exploration of the museum's bicultural processes based on the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. He worked in partnership with the chief executive officer Cheryll Sotheran on the project to construct and open the new museum building on the Wellington waterfront. He worked with museum staff to develop the Māori exhibitions and care for and display the taonga (treasures) from around New Zealand held by the museum. In particular he led the design and construction of the contemporary marae Rongomaraeroa and the spectacular wharenui Te Hono ki Hawaiki. The marae complex is situated on the fourth floor of the museum and was completed for the new building's opening with a dawn ceremony and pōwhiri on 14 February 1998. This marae is where all of the museum's formal welcome ceremonies are held and is open for the general public to view during the museum's opening hours.

After leaving the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa he was appointed kaumātua to Tourism New Zealand in December 2000. His role was to provide advice and ensure that Maāori culture was correctly portrayed when Tourism New Zealand marketed New Zealand as an international visitor destination. The successful 100% Pure New Zealand global marketing campaign featured Māori culture as a point of difference from other international destinations and Tourism New Zealand wanted to ensure that any portrayal of Māori culture was sensitive and culturally acceptable, but also innovative and contemporary.[9]

Contemporary wharenui and marae[edit]

Following the construction of the wharenui at the Palmerston North Teachers' College and the marae at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Whiting continued to work on contemporary wharenui. He worked on the wharenui Maru Kaitatea at Takahanga Marae in Kaikoura, which was opened in 2001.[10] He also worked on the development of Te Rau Aroha Marae for the Awarua Rūnanga in Bluff. This marae complex was named in remembrance of the bus that travelled throughout New Zealand during World War I, receiving donations for soldiers.[11] Again the wharenui was the centre of the marae. Named Tahu Pōtiki, this wharenui also featured the bold colours and rich carvings expected from Whiting's work.[12]

Whiting's contribution to teaching, art and the cultural heritage of New Zealand was acknowledged. In 1990, he was awarded the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal.[13] He was conferred an honorary Doctor of Literature degree by Massey University in 1996.[14] In the 1999 New Year Honours, he was awarded New Zealand's highest honour – the Order of New Zealand.[15] He also received the Alan Highet Award for excellence in the arts in 1986 and was granted honorary life membership of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 2004.

Whiting died on 16 July 2017.[16]


  1. ^ Maitaira, K (March 1962). "The Arts of the Maori Reviewed". Te Ao Hou The New World No.38. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  2. ^ Smith, Jill (January 2001). "Multiculturalism and Biculturalism Art Education in New Zealand". ACE Paper 5 Issue 8. Archived from the original on 15 October 2008. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  3. ^ "John Bevan Ford". Archived from the original on 14 October 2008. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  4. ^ "Marae history – a synopsis". Massey University College of Education. Archived from the original on 14 October 2008. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  5. ^ "Cliff Whiting". Art Encyclopedia. The Concise Grove Dictionary of Art. Oxford University Press. 2002. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  6. ^ Robinson, Helen (2005). "1985–94 Years of Turmoil". Heritage New Zealand Magazine Winter 2005. New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Archived from the original on 13 November 2008. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  7. ^ Herle, Anita; Stanley, Nick; Stevenson, Karen; et al., eds. (2002). Pacific art: persistence, change and meaning. London: C. Hurst. pp. 346–351. ISBN 1-85065-618-5.
  8. ^ Metge, Joan (2004). Rautahi: The Maori of New Zealand. Routledge. p. 288. ISBN 9780415330572. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  9. ^ Trapani, Eva (December 2000). "KIWIphile File". Archived from the original on 17 September 2008. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  10. ^ "Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura – Takahanga Marae". Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  11. ^ Murray, Justine; Rakuraku, Maraea (November 1998). "Nga Marae o te Motu (Marae of New Zealand)". 09 Whiringa a Rangi (November) 2008 – Te Ahi Kaa Programme Archive. Radio New Zealand National. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  12. ^ "Video highlights from Te Kāhui Whetū 2008". Te Kāhui Whetū. New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa. Retrieved 7 March 2009. Includes some shots of the carved interior of the wharenui
  13. ^ Taylor, Alister; Coddington, Deborah (1994). Honoured by the Queen – New Zealand. Auckland: New Zealand Who's Who Aotearoa. p. 391. ISBN 0-908578-34-2.
  14. ^ "Honorary graduates". Massey University. 4 January 2017. Archived from the original on 25 April 2018. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  15. ^ "New Year honours list 1999". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 1998. Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  16. ^ Hunt, Tom (16 July 2017). "Cliff Whiting, artist and member of Order of New Zealand, dies, aged 81". Retrieved 16 July 2017.