"She is one of Aotearoa’s best illustrators, creating distinctive and immersive worlds that inspire imagination. She’s also a brilliant storyteller." - 2021 Selection Panel
2021 Arts Foundation Laureate receiving the Mallinson Rendel Illustrators Award
Vasanti Unka is an award-winning writer, designer and illustrator noted for the originality of her storytelling, her riotously colourful and inventive illustrations and the considered design and production of her picture books. While she has extensive experience in magazine and book publishing, her true passion is creating stories for every child.
Unka is the illustrator of Hill & Hole (2010) by Kyle Mewburn, which was shortlisted for the Best Picture Book award at the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Hill & Hole won the LIANZA Russell Clark Award the same year and was also the first children's book to win the Gerard Reid Award for Best Book at the PANZ Book Design Awards.
The Boring Book (2013) – written, illustrated and designed by Unka – was named the 2014 New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and also took out the Best Picture Book Award category. It also won international acclaim with its inclusion in the 2014 White Ravens Catalogue and in 2016 was named an IBBY Honour Book for the excellence of its illustrations.
Stripes! No, Spots! (2015) was described by poet Paula Green as 'scrumptious in every way.’ It was lauded as a 2016 Storylines Notable Picture Book and was simultaneously published in the UK and US. Who Stole the Rainbow?, a humorous mystery thriller for children about why rainbows appear and disappear, was published in 2018. It was a finalist for the Best Picture Book category of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2019.
Unka's picture book I Am the Universe (2020), a colourful exploration of the wider world and our place in it, was published by Penguin NZ. It was the winner of the NZ Booklovers Award for Best Children’s Book 2021. Vasanti lives in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, where she juggles creative work and book projects.
“I’m inspired by everything around me. The darkest corners, the most dull shop fronts… I seek beauty in all things.” – Vasanti Unka