Day's spiritual sustenance

KARINA ABADIA
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2014
TJ MCNamara
WAR REFLECTIONS: Art commentator TJ McNamara will be giving a talk entitled The Great War and its Effect on the Spiritual in Art at St Luke’s Presbyterian Church on March 19.

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It's one hundred years since the start of the Great War and yet the interest in New Zealand's involvement is still strong, art commentator TJ McNamara says.

You could say the attachment is even spiritual, although perhaps not in the way you might think.

"What's surprising is that young people find what could be called spiritual sustenance in attending Anzac Day parades and going to Gallipoli, although I think they're hardly aware of it," Mr McNamara says.

How the war impacted on art of the period is the subject of a talk he will give at St Luke's church on March 19.

Mr McNamara has been an art commentator since 1966.

In those days art history courses weren't offered at university but he read a lot and gave a few lectures at the Auckland Society of Arts.

"Art in Auckland was frontier art at the time. Since then I've seen a huge expansion in art activity in galleries and in the awareness of art.

"Quite suddenly, it seemed to me, there was an enormous interest and hunger for art history."

World War I has always fascinated him. When he was growing up the family would attend the Anzac Day Dawn Service at the Auckland Domain.

His father had been too young to go to war but his uncle Clive John McNamara was killed at the Battle of Messines on the Western Front.

Seeing his uncle's name on the Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial while on an art trip with his son was very moving, he says.

As well as showing selected works by German and British artists during his talk Mr McNamara will also read poems by pre-eminent poets of the time such as Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen.

Near the end people recognised that the war was not a heroic endeavour but a ghastly tragedy. The result was a loss of religious belief, he says.

What has filled that void is Auckland War Memorial Museum which has become "our temple on the hill", he says. "It's remarkable the number of people who turn up to the Dawn Service. I think spirituality often grows out of sacrifice. To truly sacrifice you have to give your greatest treasure.

"The Western Front and Gallipoli combined made us so distrustful of King and Empire. It's a cliche but I think it helped make us think of New Zealand as a separate country."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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