Bill Culbert and Ralph Hotere: Pathway to the Sea – Aramoana

Bill Culbert and Ralph Hotere Pathway to the Sea—Aramoana 1991. Lithograph. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, purchased 1991. By permission of the Bill and Pip Culbert Trust and the Hotere Foundation Trust

Bill Culbert and Ralph Hotere Pathway to the Sea—Aramoana 1991. Lithograph. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, purchased 1991. By permission of the Bill and Pip Culbert Trust and the Hotere Foundation Trust

My time working at Te Puna o Waiwhetū was strewn with highlights, but key among these is the experience of hanging Ralph Hotere and Bill Culbert’s Pathway to the Sea – Aramoana (1991), which was also my first experience of seeing this work up close and personal. Although not the greatest work or most popular work of art in the collection, this lithograph will always be special to me. I love the sparse aesthetic, the sense of a light touch. The bold decision to not occupy the whole page as the collaborators examine restraint, notations of the relevance of place and connections.

The landscape featured is Taiaroa Heads at Ōtākou, the north facing headland of Ōtepoti Dunedin. It anchors the composition, it is the element that satisfies the eye’s need for something gritty, textured, something with weight. Taiaroa is directly opposite Aramoana, the two heads are visible from where Ralph’s studio once sat, on Observation Point, a promontory at Koputai, Port Chalmers. And being named TAIAROA it recalls centuries of Kāi Tahu whakapapa, genealogical history.

The heads were named after Taiaroa (late 1790s – 1863; Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki, Ngāti Moki, both are Kāi Tahu hapū located at Taumutu, Birdlings Flat) who was Upoko at Ōtakou from the 1830s until the 1860s in association with his cousin Karetai (c. 1805–1860). He fought against Ngāti Toa under Te Rauparaha and was later involved with the placemaking that eventually followed. Like other Kāi Tahu rangatira, Taiaroa did not actually sign the Treaty of Waitangi, but his name appears on it. In 1856 he attended Hīnana ki uta, Hīnana ki Tai, the inter-tribal gathering at Pūkawa, Taupo, where Pōtatau Te Wherowhero was elected as the first Māori king.

Pathway to the Sea – Aramoana then, reminds me of many tūpuna who lived there or had significant connections to the place, and my immediate whānau, who continue to reside under Pukekura, the old pa site at Taiaroa Heads. It is where my mother has been living since 2000, with my sister and her family following the earthquakes. It is also where, in a little crib on Te Rauone Bay, my then partner Alexandra Porter and I cared for our newborn son Eli, with his grandmother and grandfather a few minutes’ walk along the beach.

These things are present for me whenever I see this work and it is all bound there in that name, Taiaroa.

6 September 2022

Nathan Pōhio

Writer and curator

Nathan worked at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū from 2002–21. He is now senior curator, Māori art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.