National | Arts

Transgender icon Carmen Rupe remembered in National Portrait Gallery

Carmen Rupe – The Final Portrait painted by New Zealand Contemporary Artist Te Mete, has been unveiled and gifted to the people of Wellington by MP Louisa Wall.

A special ceremony was held at the National Portrait Gallery on Wednesday.

Carmen will be on display at the gallery from March 31 in light of International Transgender Day of Visibility.

Carmen Rupe (1936–2011) was a vivacious performer, businesswoman and brothel keeper, and LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS activist. She was a cultural icon in the transgender community who paved the way for many transgender men and women after her, and has been named a role model for many, including Georgina Beyer, the world’s first openly transsexual mayor.

In 1977 Carmen ran for mayor of Wellington. She supported gay marriage, legalized prostitution, sex education in schools, nude beaches, and decriminalized abortion. Though she didn’t win, all of her reforms are now legal in New Zealand.

Chairman of the New Zealand National Portrait Gallery, Dr Keith Ovenden says, "This is one of the most important and relevant pieces of Art in New Zealand's History. Reminiscent of a time of a not so tolerant and understanding New Zealand; where Transgender, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Inter-sex people were shunned and poorly treated by officials and society for simply being themselves. This artwork will be cemented in our National history making Te Mete one of the most relevant Artists in our Country throughout history."

MP and Marriage Equality champion Louisa Wall presented the portrait to the Mayor of Wellington, Celia Wade-Brown. Mrs Wall purchased the painting during a fundraising auction in 2014 and chose to donate it to the people of Wellington.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown accepted the portrait on behalf of the people of Wellington and entrusted it to the National Portrait Gallery of New Zealand for safekeeping and public enjoyment.

Mrs Wade-Brown says, "Carmen was a pioneer and a true visionary of her time, and Te Mete did such an amazing job capturing her essence and spirit. I am honoured to handover the painting into the National Portrait Galleries collection to be the custodians of such an iconic example of fine contemporary New Zealand art."

Carmen Rupe- the Final Portrait of by Te Mete is currently on display and available for public viewing in the National Portrait Gallery, Shed 11 on Customhouse Quay opposite Johnston St, Wellington Waterfront.