Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Hotere Lithograph in Black Rainbow

In his book titled Black Rainbow Albert Wendt uses a lithograph depicting a “black rainbow” by Ralph Hotere and the author even dedicates this work to that artist. The Black Rainbow/ Moruroa lithograph appears in the beginning of the text as a wall hanging in the narrator’s Auckland home. His wife had “bought it the month we’d shifted to Auckland” (10) and one morning she brings the lithograph with them on their walk. She holds the “lithograph in front of her, like an icon” (18) while she circles the Memorial on Maungakiekie, which pays homage to the original inhabitants of the island. The memorial watches the narrator’s every movement (12) and “thrust skywards like an admonishing finger” (13). The narrator’s wife holds the lithograph above her head and allows the rising sun to reflect off the artwork. Wendt writes, “As the sun rose the lithograph’s clock of doom recorded its rising” (18). The previous day, the narrator and his wife argued about their stay in Auckland. The wife accuses him saying, “You like it here. You enjoy what they’re doing to you!” The narrator responds, “But I’m free…We can leave any time” (17), even though he cannot actually leave the city in reality. The wife’s ritualistic action with the Hotere lithograph begins the countdown that ticks in the Free Citizen’s head throughout the novel. The “lithograph’s clock of doom recorded [the sun’s] rising” and the beginning of the Free Citizen’s quest to find out who he is, to discover the history that the Tribunal covered up. The wife’s action also demonstrates her recognition of a connection to the original inhabitants of the island. The fate that the original inhabitants met also awaits the Free Citizen when his countdown is concluded by the Tribunal.

Scattered around the black rainbow in the lithograph are the numbers one through fourteen. These numbers signify a countdown and throughout the book, the Free Citizen hears the ticking of the Hotere clock in his mind. The Black Rainbow lithograph hangs on the wall in his family’s suite in the Puzzle Palace (178), reminding the reader that the Free Citizen’s time is slipping away. Later, the Free Citizen tells Fantail that “it’s ticking away madly, this clock” (234). The narrator realizes that time is passing quickly into history and that his search is nearing its end. The frequent appearance of the lithograph reminds the reader that the narrator’s own “clock of doom” is ticking as he continues his quest.

In the beginning of the book, the narrator says that his wife “circled the Memorial, with the Black Rainbow held out like an icon, to bless the earth and protect it from the clock of doom that ticks in our pulses” (31). At the end of the book, he says that his wife “started our rebellion against the Tribunal” with the ritualistic act with the Hotere icon. He says, “she’d summoned the agaga of our ancient Dead with the Hotere icon to hold back the doomsday clock; she’d linked us again to the earth and our Dead” (242). Thus, the narrator’s wife, in recognizing history and the past inhabitants of the island, begins the rebellion against the Tribunal, which illegalizes memory and history. Through its countdown the lithograph recognizes time and history apart from the government (the Tribunal), a recognition not allowed in this society.