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Finlayson: Address at Requiem Mass for Ralph Hotere

Christopher Finlayson

28 February, 2013

Address at Requiem Mass for Ralph Hotere, St Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral

E te rangatira
Kei te tangi Te Aupouri
Kei te tangi Te Motu

(We acknowledge a great leader,
The people of Te Aupouri grieve,
The nation grieves with them.)

It is a great honour to represent the government today as we remember a great New Zealander – and one of Dunedin’s favourite adopted sons.

It is a testament to the people, the artistic and literary community and the natural beauty of Otago that Ralph, and another great artist of the far north, Hone Tuwhare, chose to make this region their home.

I was interested to learn Ralph Hotere was christened Hone Papita Raukura. He was well-named.

Raukura refers to the most highly prized feathers and means “most precious” – and we can certainly say that of Ralph’s legacy to New Zealand.

He was named “Hone Papita” in honour of Jean Baptiste Pompallier, New Zealand’s first Catholic bishop.

Like his namesake, Ralph was a pioneer. A pioneer of contemporary art and a pioneer of new techniques and materials.

And like his namesake, he was a man with a mission. Ralph certainly confirmed the pen and brush can be mightier than the sword.

He used his creative gifts to confront issues such as social and political justice for Māori, threats to the environment, nuclear war, apartheid, racism – all of which he examined in his work.

He felt compelled to speak through his work about the events and debates which continue to shape our nation and our place in the world.

In doing so, he made us think about what is truly important to us as people – and what we need to do to put things right.

If we look back at his life, his was an archetypal New Zealand story – shared by many of his generation of impressive Māori artists, academics, teachers and politicians – people who have made such a tremendous contribution to New Zealand.

He was born in a raupo whare in remote Mitimiti – and rose to appointment to the highest honour this country can bestow – a member of the Order of New Zealand.

He was one of fifteen children – and schooled in the Catholic faith. I like to think his spiritual training – along with his strong roots in his own culture – were the basis of his quest for social and political justice.

Ralph’s bonds with his Te Aupouri whanau remained a constant in his life – as did his
sense of connection with the natural world, forged in the wild coastal landscapes of the Hokianga.

Education and training opened the door to a pakeha world – and travel to Europe consolidated his appreciation of the western art tradition and the exciting contemporary art movements of the 1960s.

Travel also exposed him to the prevailing anxiety about the threat of nuclear war – and included a visit to the grave of his brother Jack, who died while serving with the Māori Battalion in Italy.

These experiences left an abiding impression and surfaced repeatedly in his work, along with his later social, political and environmental concerns.

When he returned to New Zealand, Ralph launched himself into a long productive career. His legacy is a remarkable body of work which has changed the way New Zealanders look at the world.

Ralph believed art feeds the soul. His art certainly did so – and we are fortunate generations of New Zealanders to come will be able to see his works in public collections around the country – and to experience the power and profundity of his artistic vision.

Haere ki te korowai aroha o Tumoana kia mihia, kia tangihia e te tini, e te mano.

(Travel to the loving embrace of your house Tumoana to be celebrated and mourned by the multitudes.)

E te rangatira haere.


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