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Honorary degrees for cultural icons

2 June 2005

Honorary degrees for cultural icons

Two of New Zealand’s cultural icons, the painter Ralph Hotere and the poet Hone Tuwhare, have received honorary Doctor of Literature degrees from The University of Auckland.

The degrees were conferred at a special ceremony in Port Chalmers, Dunedin by the University’s Pro-Chancellor, Jenny Gibbs, in the presence of their friends and members of the artistic community. The Pro Vice-Chancellor (Maori), Professor Michael Brown, began proceedings with a Maori greeting.

The ceremony took place in the Port Chalmers public library. Ralph Hotere lives in the town while Hone Tuwhare is from Kaka Point near Balclutha.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart McCutcheon, who delivered the citations for both men, said it was fitting they were being honoured jointly as Ralph Hotere had incorporated poetry into many of his works including the poetry of Hone Tuwhare.

Ralph Hotere had made a tremendous contribution to the arts in New Zealand, he said, and his works had been studied by numerous students at the University.

There could be no more eloquent testimony to his extraordinary genius than his being the only New Zealander, apart from Colin McCahon, whose work is included amongst the 500 most important artists of the twentieth century in the recent Phaidon compendium, The Twentieth Century Art Book.

Ralph Hotere’s works had “always been distinguished by the way they engage with the important political and social issues of our time”, said Professor McCutcheon. “These have ranged from nuclear testing to the power of the Maori language.

“In choosing his subject matter, Ralph Hotere has been true to the University’s obligation to act as a ‘critic and conscience of society.’ But even more than this he has fostered a new generation of visual artists, who hopefully will carry on his strong social commitment.”

Ralph Hotere had previously studied at the Auckland College of Education, now part of the University’s Faculty of Education, so the University was delighted to honour a former student in this way.

Professor McCutcheon described Hone Tuwhare as New Zealand’s finest living poet, the author of more than a dozen volumes which dated back to his first, No Ordinary Sun, in 1964.

Over the past half century he had contributed hugely to the breadth and depth of New Zealand poetry, and was represented at length in every significant New Zealand anthology of poetry over the intervening years.

Hone Tuwhare had received numerous awards, including the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement, noted Professor McCutcheon. His tribal affiliations with Ngapuhi linked him closely with The University of Auckland which had a special relationship with Tai Tokerau.

He had held a Literary Fellowship at the University in 1992 during which he wrote a collection of poems and prose published as Short Back and Sideways in 1993. Hone Tuwhare also had long-standing collegial relationships with many staff in the English Department at the University.

“Hone Tuwhare’s works respond to landscapes and seascapes, evoking Maori myths and images, yet have argued strongly for Maori rights and culture,” said Professor McCutcheon. “Throughout his life he has reflected life and cultures in New Zealand, always conscious of the aspirations of ordinary New Zealanders.”


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