Michael Parekōwhai

The Bosom of Abraham, 2006

24 Aug — 24 Sep 2022

Glowing steady, a curve of light bears intricate kōwhaiwhai patterns. For The Bosom of Abraham, Michael Parekōwhai co-opts an off-the-shelf Swiss-designed light fixture, using custom, screen-printed vinyl to realise striking and poignant artworks. The glow of this work greets the light in its beholders; suspended upright it provides illumination that echoes customary forms taken from Māori art.

The title provides additional layers of meaning. The Bosom of Abraham is a scriptural term for limbo, neither heaven nor hell, a hinterland and temporary resting place for just souls. Abraham is a Hebrew patriarch in Judeo-Christian religions but he is also Parekōwhai’s ancestor Aperahama Tutoko. Layered together with associations from the artist’s ancestry and Christian theology, the song (Rock My Soul in) the Bosom of Abraham is a guitar anthem from Parekōwhai’s primary school days.

Rock-a my soul in the bosom of Abraham,
Rock-a my soul in the bosom of Abraham,
Rock-a my soul in the bosom of Abraham,
Oh, rock-a my soul!

Michael Parekōwhai
The Bosom of Abraham
2006
Florescent light fitting, screen-printed vinyl
Edition of 7 + AP

Michael Parekōwhai
The Bosom of Abraham
2006
Florescent light fitting, screen-printed vinyl
Edition of 7 + AP

“Our meeting house in my iwi homeland has two sides and a ceiling. It’s got no carving. It’s just little. It’s not used any more, but it is abandoned only in the physical sense. This is because we know we belong to this place. We carry its spirit with us, wherever we go…. Our living marae is really our suburban family home” – Michael Parekōwhai

The form of the light fitting denotes the rafters of a wharenui, the heke or ribs of an ancestor whose bosom is the space within. In applying kōwhaiwhai patterns to a found object, one that is manufactured, Parekōwhai nods to the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp and the fluorescent light works of Dan Flavin. The visual language of kōwhaiwhai reference rafter painting, as well as the artist’s own family name. The way Parekōwhai mixes customary art forms and Western art history, the Old Testament and whakapapa recalls syncretic religions that continue flourishing in Aotearoa today. And his nod to the catchy tune points to his ongoing interest in teaching and learning, and reflecting on the ways the transmission of knowledges are always implicated in broader processes of colonization.

MICHAEL PAREKOWHAI
(Ngati Whakarongo)

Born 1968, Porirua (NZ). Lives and works in Auckland (NZ)

Michael Parekōwhai draws upon an abundant range of both vernacular and collective vocabularies in his work. He re-manufactures these lexicons into complex narrative structures and formal languages, exploring perceptions of space, the ambiguities of identity, the shifting sensitivities of historical memory and the fluid relationship between art and craft. Ideas of camaraderie, tools of teaching and childhood learning, as well as quotes from modern art history and popular culture, also play out in many of Parekōwhai’s stories. While his work is often described as emphasising the extraordinariness of the ordinary, each body of work has layers of potential for meaning and significance—they are open to any depth of interpretation and storytelling.

Parekōwhai graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland in 1990, followed by a Master of Fine Arts in 2000. Parekōwhai was selected to represent New Zealand at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011 where he exhibited On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer at the New Zealand pavilion. In 2015 he exhibited The Promised Land, a retrospective survey of his practice at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane. In 2018, Te Papa Tongarewa’s opened its newly expanded contemporary art galleries with Détour, a major solo exhibition from Parekōwhai. His work has been included in: Toi Tu Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (2020);  the 5th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2006); the 5th Gwangju Biennale (2004); the 13th Biennale of Sydney (2002) and Headlands: Thinking Through New Zealand Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (1992).

Michael Parekōwhai was awarded an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate award in 2001.

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