This year, Waitangi Day holds special significance for Tauranga street artist Graham Hoete, better known as Mr G.
He’s spent most of the day working on the last artwork in his ‘HOME’ exhibition, that opened at the Tauranga Art Gallery in November last year. The final piece entitled “Kotahitanga”, meaning unity, togetherness and solidarity, is a portrait depicting Graham and his wife Milly that, he says, speaks to the heart, word and spirit of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
“It’s one thing to talk about kotahitanga, you can campaign about it, sing about it, paint a picture about it,” says Mr G. “But the most powerful way to do it is to live it. That’s the guts of this painting - profiling and promoting Māori and Pākehā who love each other.”
The only large-scale outdoor mural of the exhibition, “Kotahitanga” takes pride of place on a building owned by the University of Waikato in Tauranga that sits directly opposite the campus entrance on Durham Lane. Mr G says it was always part of the grand plan for ‘HOME’ to include an external piece in Tauranga Moana but it proved to be a challenge finding the perfect wall. Despite scoping out dozens of potential sites, nowhere seemed quite right until he drove down a quiet laneway and spied a wall with views through to Mauao and in the shadow of the University’s award-winning building.
A fortuitous meeting with Marcelle Wharerau, a lecturer with the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies based at Waikato’s Tauranga campus, set the wheels in motion for the wall to receive its artistic reinvention.
The University’s Director of Regional Engagement Joseph Macfarlane says the University was supportive of the project and the concept that Mr G had proposed for the space.
“The themes of kotahitanga and aroha are kaupapa that resonate with the campus and the cultural narrative within, and in the context of 180 years of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, these are the themes that provide inspiration to a nation,” he says. “We are excited to collaborate with Mr G as a local son of Tauranga Moana and look forward to seeing how the university community and the people around Durham Lane and across Tauranga City engage with the artwork.”
Gareth Wallis, General Manager: Community Services at Tauranga City Council is equally thrilled that “Kotahitanga” found a home in the heart of the CBD. “It’s fantastic to be supporting Graham and the University of Waikato, Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato, to produce this piece for students and the people of Tauranga Moana. We are very proud to have worked with Graham on his first solo exhibition ‘HOME’ at the Tauranga Art Gallery, and having a permanent piece of art in our community is the ideal way to conclude the exhibition, which finishes this Sunday 9 February.”
With the various works that made up ‘HOME’, Mr G honoured his parents, tūrangawaewae of Motiti Island, Matakana Island and Tauranga Moana and even his favourite kaimoana, kina. When it came to the concept for ““Kotahitanga”, he didn’t have to look far for inspiration. On Sunday (February 2), he celebrated his 18-year wedding anniversary with Milly and shared a photo on social media along with the words, “I just wanna say unapologetically as a Māori that I love, honour and adore my Pākehā wife! Love is our true north e te iwi.” The public response was overwhelming. “When other couples engaged and posted about their own relationships, it was beautiful,” says Mr G. “This will be the perfect way to top the whole exhibition off - to celebrate and honour our love for each other.”
With the university year yet to fully start and few students on campus, tucked down the laneway and hidden from the main road, Mr G has simply gotten on with what he does best. He is grateful to those who have supported him in his first solo exhibition. “Tauranga City Council have been amazing with their partnership and support of ‘HOME’,” he says. “I take my hat off to Gareth and Reena from the Council who put their whole heart into making the exhibition happen. And Tauranga Art Gallery has given ‘HOME’ a great home for the past three months.”
While the eye-catching gold ‘G’ on magenta background may soon disappear from the Tauranga Art Gallery’s exterior wall when the ‘HOME’ exhibition closes this Sunday, it is comforting to know that “Kotahitanga” will live on in Tauranga City.
On Monday 10 February, following a karakia at 12pm on Durham Lane by the University’s kaumātua Mr Tamati Tata, Mr G will give a talk about the meaning and significance of “Kotahitanga”. The invitation is open to all who wish to attend.