Trying to Capture Smoke

Ralph Hotere Godwit/Kuaka (detail) 1977. Enamel on board. Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Auckland International Airport Ltd, 1997

Ralph Hotere Godwit/Kuaka (detail) 1977. Enamel on board. Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Auckland International Airport Ltd, 1997

Matariki Williams responds to Ralph Hotere’s Godwit/Kuaka.

Ralph Hotere Godwit/Kuaka (detail) 1977. Enamel on board. Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Auckland International Airport Ltd, 1997

Ralph Hotere Godwit/Kuaka (detail) 1977. Enamel on board. Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Auckland International Airport Ltd, 1997

Ruia Ruia

It is the refrain of the living, to never want to leave.
Yet we take flight, always.

The flight of the bereaved,
tracing hill and mountain top.

To make it home for a brother’s tangi.

A memory of small hands
curling in your hair
as he falls
asleep.

It is a story passed to your mokos,
who have grown up and older
than the brother
you loved.

Your kōrero is a rope,
twining your past to ours,
bringing your brother to this future.

Godwit/Kuaka advances, recedes and shimmers, like wings it beats and stills. Hau mai, tau mai, nau mai, Ralph Hotere likens us to the bird that is returning home from its own long journey.

His painting greets its viewers, and settles them like the fleeing tīpuna who were to become Te Aupōuri, seeking leave from the surety of death. The eyes calm before momentum builds again and we take off, off the edge of the hardboard.

Ralph Hotere Godwit/Kuaka (detail) 1977. Enamel on board. Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Auckland International Airport Ltd, 1997

Ralph Hotere Godwit/Kuaka (detail) 1977. Enamel on board. Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Auckland International Airport Ltd, 1997

Opea Opea

The place
I will look.
One last time.

Then to leap
into the surging waters at Cape Rēinga
having left my home to begin walking Te Ara Wairua.

I do not want to leave this land, not to stand at
Manawatawhi and look back at
this place in the Far North,
spoken of in awed tones by Nan’s uncles,
“Make friends with girls from the Far North.
They have the old reo.”

The central panels of Godwit/Kuaka feature three large circles, their precision incised onto a black-lacquered infinity. J.C. Sturm wrote of Hotere’s infinity as such, “How he darkens dark with more dark.” His is a depth that keeps us guessing, we plunge into it and resurface with our own revelations.

Gathered around his work, the reality is that I learn more about myself than I do about him. In an accompanying soundscape, he chants the tauparapara that is repeated in the centre of the painting and the wall label, breathing into the words a meaning that cannot be read.

Ralph Hotere Godwit/Kuaka (detail) 1977. Enamel on board. Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Auckland International Airport Ltd, 1997

Ralph Hotere Godwit/Kuaka (detail) 1977. Enamel on board. Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Auckland International Airport Ltd, 1997

Tahia Tahia

We are trying to capture smoke.

It swirls away,
eluding us,
leaving an indelible mark.

Recitations carry this kōrero,
and bring us back together.

In one waka
navigating the choppy seas,
to all arrive safely.

Kua tau mai.

This story of a journey, requires an end, an end that does not always close with a return. Just as death carries life and life carries death, the rope that brought us here can be broken, deliberately cut, frayed over time, unravel.

Yet, if one kuaka makes it, we all make it. In the footsteps of another, we walk. In the infinities of Hotere, his magic luminosities indeed make us real.

He mihi mutunga kore ki ngā kupu ō J.C. Sturm, Hone Tuwhare, Anahera Gildea, Ranea Aperahama.

E kore e mīmiti hoki ōku mihi ki te pō nui, te pō roa, te pō uriuri, te pō kerekere, te pō tē kitea, te pō tangotango, i roto i ngā mahi o Ralph Hotere.

Ralph Hotere Godwit/Kuaka 1977. Enamel on board. Installed at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Auckland International Airport Ltd, 1997

Ralph Hotere Godwit/Kuaka 1977. Enamel on board. Installed at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Auckland International Airport Ltd, 1997

31 May 2021

Matariki Williams

Matariki Williams (Tūhoe, Taranaki, Ngāti Whakaue,Ngāti Hauiti) is curator mātauranga Māori at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.