Masked Hero wins the $20,000 National Contemporary Art Award

The winning work entitled Red handed by Emma Hercus.

MARK TAYLOR/Stuff

The winning work entitled Red handed by Emma Hercus.

Lower Hutt artist Emma Hercus has received the prestigious $20,000 National Contemporary Art Award for a “majestically layered” assemblage titled ” In the act.

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

Ahead of Friday night’s reveal, Paterson said it was the developing story of “fight and then victory” in Hercus’ play that “hypnotized” him.

“It’s a celebration of adversity,” Paterson said.

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Judge Reuben Paterson was unable to make Friday night's unveiling because of an injury but said he would be celebrating at home.

MARK TAYLOR/Stuff

Judge Reuben Paterson was unable to make Friday night’s unveiling because of an injury but said he would be celebrating at home.

In selecting the final pieces from the 300 entries, Paterson said he knew he wanted something that took the viewer on a journey and had “heart.”

“I admit it was harder than I thought it was because so much work nailed it…but I kept coming back to Emma’s piece in the end,” Paterson said.

The multimedia piece made of acrylic paint and charcoal on MDF board with collage reminded Paterson of the Shroud of Turin.

The Shroud of Turin is a piece of linen believed by some to be the burial robe of Jesus Christ, kept in the Royal Chapel of the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista in Turin, Italy, since 1578.

“Laid face down, the linen takes on an image, like the Shroud of Turin.

Reuben Paterson is one of the country's finest contemporary artists.

Reuben Paterson/Jennifer French

Reuben Paterson is one of the country’s finest contemporary artists.

“By laying the linen down, it collects the exploits and remnants of the setting or the night before, collecting tape and collage hair and souvenirs that refer to bodies violently surrendering to arrest and control.

“What the artist reveals as this figure is peeled from the MDF board is a soaring figure, where the severe scars and scarred surfaces are celebrated in confetti colors and the darkness is now transported into the past as a painted black background.

“These hands no longer surrender, but rise in triumphant celebration, masquerading as a hero, not a villain, from a riot.”

The work was selected by a blind jury process from 34 finalists, all of whom are now on display at the museum through November 28.

After being canceled in 2020 due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the award celebrated its 22nd anniversary this year, attracting entries from across New Zealand and abroad.

Oleg Polounine made an aluminum foil sculpture for Dits and Dahs.

MARK TAYLOR/Stuff

Oleg Polounine made an aluminum foil sculpture for Dits and Dahs.

Tompkins Wake, one of New Zealand’s leading law firms, and nationally renowned architecture firm Chow:Hill have been Grand Prize sponsors since 2014 and 2015 respectively.

The runner-up and winner of the $5,000 Hugo Charitable Trust Award was Raukura Turei for He Tukuna V for Onepū, oil and pigment on canvas.

There were also two $1000 merit awards to Sara (Hera) for her photo Tautuku Orme for Ko Te Awa Ko Au-Darling (Darz) and Oleg Polounine for Dits and Dahs, an aluminum foil sculpture.

The $250 Campbell Smith Memorial People’s Choice Award is sponsored by the Smith family in tribute to the former Waikato Museum director, artist, playwright and poet.

Shortly before the end of the award exhibition in November, it will be presented to the winner with the most votes from visitors.

The 34 finalists are now on display in the museum until November 28th.

MARK TAYLOR/Stuff

The 34 finalists are now on display in the museum until November 28th.

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