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Ani O'Neill

Ani O'Neill



Cook Islands artist takes out top arts award: ‘I don’t feel like I ever stand alone’

Renowned pioneer of contemporary Pacific art to receive prestigious award.

The winners of Creative New Zealand’s Arts Pasifika Awards have been announced for 2023 with Pacific Sister Ani O’Neill (Ngati Makea, Ngati Te Tika) winning in the Senior Pacific Artist category.

Unique on a national and global scale, the awards celebrate the very best in Pacific creative excellence across seven categories in recognition of the Moana heartbeat of arts in Aotearoa.

This year is special as two artists have won in the Senior category, joining O'Neill is Samoan Maori artist Lonnie Hutchinson who is from Christchurch and creates large scale sculptures.

O’Neill’s practice has been forged across decades and is grounded in her mother’s homeland of Rarotonga and her birthplace within the Pacific diaspora of Auckland. Inspired by her grandmother’s teachings of Cook Islands material and ceremonial culture, O’Neill’s seemingly infinite kete of inspiration has extended to craft, installation, objects, and performance.

“Being honoured with the ‘Senior Artist’ award is pretty humbling, especially when I look at the list of artists who have previously been given this award,” says O’Neill.

“I think of all the people in my life that have shared their wisdom, their support, given me opportunities, encouraged and inspired me, made my life as an artist such a beautiful one. I love that we can share this special moment."

An ongoing thread throughout O’Neill’s practice is to honour the gift of generational knowledge, sharing this taonga through education and collaboration as a core part of Moana Pasifika philosophy.

The awards will be held in Wellington on 18 October with all eight recipients to be honoured in a ceremony full of industry, whanau, and friends.

O'Neill's generous advice to young Pacific artists it to never stop learning – and to be a good friend, she credits all of the community around her that have supported her on her path.

“As a child born in 1970’s Grey Lynn to my Cook Islands mum and Irish NZ dad, I feel very proud. Being able to take this opportunity to say ‘meitaki - thank you’ in this space is a huge honour.

“I don’t feel like I ever stand alone.”

Ani O'Neill and Pacific Sisters open Toi Art at Te Papa Tongarewa

Ani O'Neill and Pacific Sisters open Toi Art at Te Papa Tongarewa

The Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards have been running since 2002 and feature prominent artists through the years such as Johnny Penisula, Filipe Tohi, Janet Lilo, Daren Kamali and Ane Tonga.

The Pacific Sisters of which Ani O'Neill is a core member is a collective of Pacific and Māori fashion designers, artists, performers, and musicians that electrified 1990s Auckland.

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