She trained as a commercial artist and later moved to New Zealand at the age of nineteen. From 1972 to 1980, Kahukiwa was a regular exhibitor at the Academy in Wellington. Kahukiwa"s work often deals with themes of colonialism and the dispossession of indigenous people, motherhood and blood-ties, social custom and mythology.
Kahukiwa gained prominence in New Zealand in the 1980s after her exhibition Wahine Toa (strong women) which toured the country.
This exhibition drew on Maori myth and symbolism. One of the pieces Hinetitama is in the permanent collection at Te Manawa.
Kahukiwa"s works are influenced by Colin McCahon, Ralph Hotere and Frida Kahlo.