A collection of photographs of Maori kuia with chin moko has been gifted to Te Papa by veteran photographer Marti Friedlander.
The Moko Suite is a group of 47 portraits taken by Friedlander, 81, in 1969 to illustrate historian Michael King's book, Moko – Maori Tattooing in the 20th Century.
The pair travelled around the country for several weeks, visiting women whose moko had been tattooed using traditional tools and ink.
For many years, the portraits have been separated and held in trust by different people.
However, former Te Papa chief executive Seddon Bennington, who died tramping in the Tararuas last year, approached Friedlander more than two years ago to see whether she would be willing to donate the original prints to the national museum.
Friedlander said she didn't hesitate. "I've never ever wanted to sell those photographs. It was suggested that I gift them and I thought it was perfect."
It was deeply moving to see all 47 portraits together again, she said. "I shed tears. They feel so present and I was extremely touched."
By gifting the portraits to Te Papa, future generations would be able to see them, she said. "It's something that belongs to the nation."
The portraits are on display at FHE Galleries in Auckland until Friday before they travel to Wellington.
Gallery director Kathlene Fogarty said it was hard to put a value on the collection. "It's immeasurable, really."
The portraits would never be sold, but their price on the international market would be millions of dollars, she said.
In the year to June 2009, Te Papa bought art and other assets worth $3.87 million. Another $438,000 worth of assets were donated to the museum.
- The Dominion Post