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In an exhibition that might raise as many questions as it provides answers, Brian Easton, curator of The Makers of Modern New Zealand 1930 – 1990 exhibition at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery, welcomes the element of debate that could emerge from his choice of subjects.

Dr Easton, economist, writer (author of The Nationbuilders) and social commentator, confronted the monumental task of selecting portraits of sixty New Zealanders who reflect the development of the nation from 1930-1990.

“It was important that the selection extended far beyond the capital’s base of bureaucrats, civil servants, and politicians” he said. “Given pivotal factors like the Great Depression, the post-war boom, broader opportunities for Maori and for women, the flourishing of the Pacific nations, the arts, and professional sports, along with diminished emphasis on Britain and the growth of self determination and national identity, the picture of the nation has changed hugely in the last sixty years.”

Portraits of key figures in commerce, politics, education, law, and the arts are represented. But so too are portraits of lesser known but significant people who symbolise important elements of the period, such as the increasing importance of Maori and women in our public life. “Viewed collectively and usually chronologically, the portraits tell their own story about the development of the nation over the turbulent and transformational 60 years.

“There may be many surprises about who is represented, as well as those who are not- this is not a parade of ‘celebrities’. Rather it is of New Zealanders who have made a major and long- lasting contribution to New Zealand’s development and whose contributions and achievements illustrate exceptional forces for change over the years represented in the exhibition” Easton said.

A work print of Dame Whina Cooper taken by Ans Westra in the 1980s is part of this exciting exhibition which will be on display until 12 February 2012.

[Dame Whina Cooper], 1980s, New Zealand. Westra, Ans. Purchased 1993 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa

Dame Whina Cooper, 1980s, New Zealand. Westra, Ans. Purchased 1993 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa

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