Michael Parekowhai


Michael Parekowhai
Production date:
Accession No:
1550 x 1250mm
c-type digital print

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. Purchased with funds donated by the TSB Community Trust to the Govett-Brewster Foundation, 2005.

Michael Parekowhai’s Boulogne belongs to the photographic series entitled Consolation of Philosophy Piko nei te matenga (when our heads are bowed with woe) that features flower arrangements. The use of flower arrangements is in part a play on his family name ‘Pare-kowhai’, which means literally ‘garland of yellow [kowhai] flowers’. Parekowhai is recovering a set of Māori symbols from European Pākehā: pre-Pākehā Māori masculine floral symbolism is reclaimed from feminine European kitsch. Parekowhai's works toy with conventions and histories of traditional Māori art inflected by a western contemporary art language. His flowers are kitsch plastic and silk fakes arranged in large versions of 20th century New Zealand Crown Lynn ceramics. The flower arrangements presented on a monumental scale on a ‘pure’ white-on-white background deceitfully challenge their faux quality. The combination of the white background and the professionally-arranged flowers draws associations with funeral and mourning rituals.

The titles of these works  Amiens, Armentières, Carais, Étaples, Fish Alley, Flers, Le Quesnoy, Messines, Passchendaele, Turk Lane and Ypres  are named after World War I battlefields where the Māori Pioneer Battalion dug trenches. In a text he has written about these works, Parekowhai reminds us that the trench-style warfare that dominated the theatre of war closely resembles fighting styles necessitated by Māori defensive pā architecture. The photographs mourn the human lives as well as the “white wash” of history that tends to focus on the heroism of sacrifice rather than the dreadful pain war inflicts on humanity.