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Multimedia artist Emma Hercus has won the prestigious $20,000 National Contemporary Art Award for a “majestically layered” assemblage work titled Red handed.

The winning work was selected by Reuben Paterson, one of the country’s top contemporary artists, and judge for the 2022 National Contemporary Art Award at Hamilton’s Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga O Waikato.

Paterson, who has affiliations to Ngaati Rangitihi, Ngaai Tuuhoe, and Tuuhourangi, said the experimental process used by Hercus to create Red handed resulted in a work that exists as “a celebration of adversity”.

“My reading begins in the thoughtful process of the artist’s ritual of soaking linen. Placed face down, the linen absorbs an image, like the Shroud of Turin. In placing the linen downwards, it collects the exploits and remnants of surroundings, or of the night before, collecting hairs and souvenirs of tape and collage that make reference to bodies violently surrendering to arrest and control. What the artist reveals as this figure is peeled back from the MDF board is a figure rising up, where the violent scars and pitted surfaces are celebrated in confetti colours, and darkness is now set into the past, as a painted black background. These hands are no longer at surrender, but raise in triumphant celebration, masked as a hero, not a villain, from an uprising.”

Through the National Contemporary Art Award’s traditional blind-judging process (concealing the artist names from the judge), Red handed was chosen from 34 finalists and more than 300 entries. All of the finalist works are now on display in a free exhibition at Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato until 13 November.

“Reuben Paterson has selected an extraordinary piece from a body of work that represents the talent, depth, creativity and bravery of our contemporary arts sector” said Liz Cotton, Director of Museum and Arts, Waikato Museum. “My congratulations go to all award winners and finalists, and deep appreciation to our award sponsors and wonderful Judge”.

Now in its 22nd year, the National Contemporary Art Award attracted hundreds of entries from around New Zealand and overseas. Tompkins Wake, one of New Zealand’s leading law firms, and nationally-renowned architects Chow:Hill have been sponsors of the top prize since 2014 and 2015 respectively.

The prize winners announced today are:

  • 2022 National Contemporary Art Award, $20,000 prize co-sponsored by Tompkins Wake and Chow:Hill
    Emma Hercus for Red Handed (acrylic paint and charcoal on MDF board with collage)
  • 2022 Runner Up and winner of the $5,000 Hugo Charitable Trust Award
    Raukura Turei for He Tukuna V (onepū, oil and pigment on linen).
  • 2022 Friends of Waikato Museum $1,000 Merit Award winner
    Sara (Hera) Tautuku Orme for Ko Te Awa Ko Au -Darling (Darz) (photograph).
  • 2022 Random Art Group $1,000 Merit Award winner
    Oleg Polounine for Dits and Dahs (aluminium foil sculpture).

The Campbell Smith Memorial People’s Choice Award, worth $250, is sponsored by the Smith family as a tribute to the former Waikato Museum Director, artist, playwright and poet. It will be presented to the winner of the most votes by the visiting public just before the Award exhibition closes in November.

The finalists for the 2022 National Contemporary Art Award are:

  • Jana Wood, Night Walking (oil on rabbit skin gesso on board) and Pink Squall (oil on rabbit skin gesso on recycled board)
  • Virginia Were, An Abominable Mystery (framed photographic print)
  • Tira Walsh, Black Milk (mixed media on canvas)
  • Hannah Valentine, Anytime (with purpose) (cast bronze, Beal and Edelrid cords, Black Diamond Daisy Chain)
  • Leighton Upson, Untitled (oil and spray paint on linen)
  • Raukura Turei, He Tukuna V (onepū, oil and pigment on linen)
  • Natalie Tozer, Medium Continued (mixed media)
  • Sara (Hera) Tautuku Orme, Ko Te Awa Ko Au -Darling (Darz) (photograph)
  • Mark Soltero, Four Corners of the Rorschach (acrylic on hessian)
  • David K. Shields, I Am Hayden (He/They) (photograph)
  • Merthyr Ruxton, AWA (oil paint on board)
  • Milvia Romici, Future Rocks (various plastic packaging (milk bottles, cups, meat trays, etc), plastic bags, wire frame)
  • Mark Purdom, Shredded Tire 37° 51' 01.1"S 175° 20' 34.2"E (giclée photographic print)
  • Oleg Polounine, Dits and Dahs (aluminium foil and tape, spray paint)
  • Katie Mouat, The Moment of Truth 2022 (photograph)
  • Deborah Moss, Memories of Nikau (acrylic, ink, oil pastel on stretched linen)
  • Scott McFarlane, Figurative Real Estate (oil on canvas)
  • Alice Jeesu McDonald, Fountain of Desires (ink on paper)
  • Janet Mazenier, Milieu (oil and mixed media with beeswax medium)
  • Christina Little, Pastness & Futureness (digital photograph)
  • Glen Hutchins, Out West (graphite, spray paint and acrylic on unstretched canvas)
  • Emma Hercus, Red handed (acrylic and charcoal on MDF board with collage)
  • James R Ford, It’s All a Bit Confusing, Then It’s Over (acrylic on canvas)
  • Jessica Douglas, Troubled Waters (acrylic on canvas)
  • Ekaterina Dimieva, Utopian Landscape 01 (oil on canvas)
  • Antony Densham, 2022 (acrylic on canvas)
  • Elliot Collins, There Were Trees (bone, honey and perspex)
  • D Milton Browne, Subdued (photograph)
  • Matthew Browne, MORGENFRISK (vinyl tempera and oil on linen)
  • Gareth Barlow, Shadows Of The Ashes (acrylic and charcoal (including charcoal from burnt taonga) on paper)
  • Gemma Baldock, Once Upon a Time (mixed media/original collage)
  • Matt Arbuckle, The Guide (acrylic on knitted polyester, framed in aluminium)
  • Rachel Hope Allan, Our Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (photograph)
  • Brett a'Court, Toiroa's Prophecy (oil on prepared woollen blanket on canvas support)

Details of the exhibition, which runs until 13 November, are available on the Waikato Museum website All artworks in the exhibition are available for sale and entry is free.

Note: Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga O Waikato uses double vowels in te reo Maaori to represent a long vowel sound as it is the preference of the Waikato–Tainui iwi. Artist names and other titles are shown in their original form.


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