Rita Angus (1908-70), New Zealand
Rutu, 1951, oil paint on canvas. Purchased 1992 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds
When Rita Angus painted this self-portrait, she wasn’t interested in what a mirror might reflect, but in what lay behind the face - her cultural and spiritual identity. The artist has become a blonde Polynesian woman, a multicultural goddess surrounded by symbols from a variety of cultures and histories.
The sun frames her head like a halo, a mark of holiness in Christian art. In her hands is a lotus flower, a central motif in Oriental religions, and she wears a fish design - her astrological sign, Pisces, and an early Christian symbol.
Finally, Angus has given herself the name Rutu, or Ruth, a biblical name meaning compassion.