4 Mar 2013

Burial service for artist Ralph Hotere

10:14 pm on 4 March 2013

Acclaimed New Zealand artist Ralph Hotere has been buried in the Far North.

Hotere died in Dunedin on 24 February. The 81-year-old had been in poor health since a stroke in 2001.

The burial at Mitimiti in north Hokianga follows a three-day tangi attended by hundreds at his home marae of Matihetihe.

The funeral mass in the Tumoana meeting house on Monday morning was packed with his relatives as well as artists and writers who came to farewell their friend.

Father Henare Tate led the service and told those gathered that Hone Papita Hotere was named after John the Baptist, was a stirrer like his namesake and shared the prophet's qualities of humility and kindness.

Pallbearers followed by about 200 mourners carried the coffin up the steep path to the Hotere urupa.

But there was a slight hitch in the ceremony when the side of the sandy grave collapsed as the coffin was being lowered - and two people fell in.

One of them, nephew Matthew Hotere, says his great-uncle may have played his last joke on his whanau at his burial.

Mr Hotere says he probably invited trouble when he rapped on the coffin because the job was proving tricky and told him to behave. "So he probably thought, I'll fix you nephew - I'll pull you in with me."

Mr Hotere says his uncle was known for his sense of fun.

The artist now lies among his family in a grave that overlooking his birthplace and the Tasman Sea.

At a church service in Dunedin last week to honour his life, Ralph Hotere was described as a great New Zealander with a powerful artistic vision and a mission for social and political justice.

Never afraid to comment on current affairs in his work, his Aramoana series expressed his strong opposition to plans to use the Aramoana wetlands for an aluminium smelter while "Black Warrior" commented on the 1985 sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour.

The artist rarely talked about his work, preferring to let it speak for itself. In 1994, he was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Otago and in 2003 named one of the Living Icons of New Zealand Arts.