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Artist Adds a Dose of Humor to Thought-Provoking Animal Sculptures

michael parekowhai chapman's homer

On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer. Image via Michael Parekowhai and Michael Lett.

With a career spanning more than two decades, Michael Parekowhai is one of New Zealand’s leading contemporary artists. He creates a broad range of work, primarily focusing on sculpture and photography to connect high-art and whimsy in the tradition of Duchamp. By infusing his work with humor, he is able to subtly explore themes of cultural and societal appropriation in an ironic manner.

Parekowhai represented New Zealand at the 2011 Venice Biennale with his work On First Looking into Chapman's Homer. The piece, in which an enormous bronze bull sits atop a piano, demonstrates the artist’s penchant for using scale to great effect. Named after a John Keats poem, the 1.7-tonne giant was purchased by the Christchurch Art Gallery in 2013 after touring globally.

In some instances, such as with his Horn of Africa 2006, Parekowhai—who is of European and Maori descent—explores issues of colonialization. Here, a glossy seal deftly balances a grand piano on its nose. A close eye may note that the seal’s body is similar in shape to New Zealand, with the piano acting as a representation of European “civilizing” forces.

The artist’s first major retrospective took place in 2015 at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAGOMA). Exhibition curator, Maud Page, QAGOMA Deputy Director, Collection and Exhibitions shared, “Parekowhai’s work uses humor to explore the intersections between national narratives, colonial histories and popular culture. He is renowned for bringing together multiple layers of meaning in a single object, with in-jokes and snippets of autobiography sitting side-by-side with cultural critique and art historical playfulness.”

Michael Parekowhai horn of africa sculpture

The Horn of Africa 2006.

Michael Parekowhai As the World Turns Sculpture

The World Turns.

Michael Parekowhai The World Turns Sculpture

The World Turns. Installation at Queensland Art Gallery. Read more.

michael parekowhai parliament of fools sculpture

Parliament of Fools.

Michael Parekowhai seldom is herd buck doe sculpture

Seldom is Herd.

Michael Parekowhai my sister my self

My Sister, My Self. Image via Michael Lett.

michael parekowhai chapman's homer

Detail, On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer. Image via Bernard Spragg.

h/t: [Dark Silence in Suburbia]

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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