Heather Straka

b. 1972

Heather Straka's mastery over the painting medium is complimented by her nuanced presentation of the subtleties of frequently contentious subject matter. This technical finesse coupled with her daring bravado has provided the foundation for a practice has allowed Straka to establish herself as one as an accomplished and recognised New Zealand artist in a remarkably short period of time. Her compelling and perceptive work often presents traditional topics in a contentious light – exploring realities of human behaviour and challenging the socio-political paradigm.

The provocative integration of sacred Catholic symbols in her appropriated Maori portraits demonstrated the depth of her understanding of historical issues and her courage in communicating such controversial insights. Straka has continued to provoke discussion with ‘The Asian’ series, a multifaceted commentary on authorship that maintained domestic relevance within the context of increasing ethnic diversity in New Zealand. Her recent series Burqa, in which she rejects Western notions of sexuality and female oppression in the Middle East, is testament to her unflinching readiness to explore dangerous thematic content.

Having studied sculpture Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland, the focus of her practice shifted while working with Julia Morison in France, where she was exposed to the rich cultural legacy of European painting. Returning to New Zealand, Straka exhibited her first painting show in 1998 before graduating with a Masters in Fine Arts from the Canterbury School of Fine Arts in 2000. She was announced as the Frances Hodgkins Fellow for 2008 and awarded the William Hodges Fellowship in 2011, accolades that complimented the Pierce Lowe award for excellence in painting she was presented in 2002. Her work is currently held in all major New Zealand public collections.