Long Burning Flame, Look to Whiria by Shane Cotton (Ngāti Rangi, Ngāti Hine, Te Uri Taniwha), 2021.
A depiction of an important Ngāpuhi narrative welcomes visitors to The Hotel Britomart.
Visitors to The Hotel Britomart are greeted by an artwork by Shane Cotton, which occupies the centre of a cracked clay wall. The painting, which was specially commissioned for this space, tells the story of the explorer Kupe who, narrative has it, discovered Aotearoa. Kupe was struggling to locate the entrance of the Hokianga Harbour; the painting’s muted colour palette of whites and greys makes its kowhaiwhai patterns look like sunlight diffused through clouds, or reflections on water, the merging of sea and sky which obscured Kupe’s path.
Eventually Kupe was guided into the harbour by the light falling upon the maunga (mountain) of Te Ramaroa, which translates as ‘the long burning flame’ or ‘light in the dark’. In Ngāpuhi legend, all its maunga are sequentially connected: Te Ramaroa in turn looks to Whiria, another sacred peak. The other piece of text on the painting, ‘Titiro ki Whiria’, translates as ‘look to Whiria’, the next step in a journey into Ngāpuhi territory.
In this sense the painting is a retelling of one of the founding legends of Shane’s Ngāpuhi iwi, and a reference to two of its most significant maunga. Contained within it is the idea that the light on Te Ramaroa is a metaphorical beacon that can guide all of us – and every visitor to the hotel – on our individual and collective journeys.
The wall behind the painting features clay made from the black sand of Muriwai Beach, held in place by a geotextile mesh that holds the clay in place and controls the cracking process. It was fabricated by Alan Drayton and the team at Biobuild in collboration with Cheshire Architects.