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Michael Parekowhai has recently been selected as the artist who will represent New Zealand at the Venice Biennale in 2011.
His selection is the most appropriate one that has been made in recent years. He is an artist who work engages on a number of levels and will be appreciated by general audiences, curators and critics.
He is intending to produce a new body of work for the Biennale exhibition but he could well just use the work which he showed at Te Papa a couple of years ago.
“The Big OE” consisted of a beautifully restored, blue 1962 Kombi van in the middle of a synthetic pine plantation. This was how many New Zealanders explored and experienced Europe and typical of the artists ability to use simple images to develop complex narratives about this country.
Most of the artist’s works Like “The Big OE” is about the merging and interconnectedness of cultures. There is a concern in all his pieces with examining New Zealand identity, both Maori and Pakeha. He explores how we have used a smorgasbord of cultural, commercial and historical threads to create that identity.
Several of his works, both photographic and sculptural make use of sparrows and rabbits with both of them becoming symbols of imported culture and colonialism but which have now have become imbedded images in the New Zealand landscape.
He is one of the major New Zealand artists who combines ideas about Western art, New Zealand history, Maori cultural history along with a personal idiosyncratic take on the world.
His “The Story of a New Zealand River” features a black lacquered concert grand piano inlaid with paua which was inspired by the film “The Piano”. His series of photographs of large floral displays relate to the major battles of World War I in which Maori and Pakeha lost their lives with each of the works named after one of the battles.
Several of his pieces reference artists such as Henry Moore, Colin McCahon and Gordon Walters as well as the great surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp,
A large sculptural work he made in his final year at art school “The Indefinite Article” used the words “I Am He” from one of Colin McCahons, “I AM” paintings. While the words related to the McCahon painting, a biblical reference and to Maori language ("he" wrong or incorrect), European audiences when it was shown in Holland saw it as being a reference to the Beatles song “I am the Walrus”.
One of his first major works was a copy of Marcel Duchamp’s work which featured a bicycle wheel on a stool. Duchamp used existing objects to create his work however Michael Parekowhai’s version was of hand carved wood, combining the traditional idea of Maori carving with the modern art of the “ready made”…
Since then he has referred to Duchamp in other works such as his “Mimi” a hand made version of a urinal which was copy of a Duchamp ready made ”Fountain”.
Michael Parekowhai was born in Porirua (1968) of Ngati Whakarongo and European descent. He was awarded an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award in 2001, and is currently Associate Professor at Auckland University's Elam School of Fine Arts. He has an extensive exhibition history with work in most major private and public collections in New Zealand and Australia as well as overseas.