Michael Parekowhai / New Zealand b.1968 / The Horn of Africa 2006 / Wood, fibreglass, steel, brass, automotive paint / Purchased 2008 with funds from the Queensland Government’s Gallery of Modern Art Acquisitions Fund in recognition of the contribution to the Gallery by Wayne Goss (Chair of Trustees 1999–2008) / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Michael Parekowhai

Michael Parekowhai
The Horn of Africa 2006

Not Currently on Display

In The Horn of Africa 2006, a New Zealand fur seal balances a grand piano on its nose. Black and glossy, the work is rich with filmic and literary references, including Jane Mander’s 1920 novel The Story of a New Zealand River, with the motif of the piano representing the ‘civilising force’ of European settlement.

The Horn of Africa 2006 also refers to the complex historical, scientific and political events surrounding a war-torn stretch of contested African land believed to be the birthplace of humankind — a political hotbed, where conflicting claims of being ‘first’ loom large in the imagination.

Michael Parekowhai’s work can also be read as a comment on the precariousness of nationhood, with the sculpture recalling the shape of New Zealand’s North and South Islands.

Michael Parekowhai is one of New Zealand’s most important contemporary artists, showing regularly in New Zealand and internationally in major exhibitions including the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) in 1999 and 2006.

Parekowhai is known for his witty, larger-than-life sculptures, photographs and installations. Parekowhai was born in Porirua in 1968, of European (pākehā) and Māori (Ngāti Whakarongo) descent.

In 1990, he completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts, and received a teaching diploma from the Auckland College of Education. He returned to Elam and in 2000 obtained a Master of Fine Arts.

His public artwork The World Turns 2011–12, a lifesized bronze sculpture of an elephant and native Australian kuril (water rat) is located near the riverfront at GOMA.

Discussion Questions

1. In this sculpture, the seal is balancing the grand piano on the tip of his nose. Look at the way the seal is poised. Do you think the seal is relaxed or tense? Do you ever have to balance things in your life?

2. How do the materials used and overall finish of the sculpture convey meaning? Annotate the artwork, identifying the use of symbolism and metaphor.

Classroom Activities

1. Compare the sculpture to the shape of New Zealand. Think of the shape of Australia. What animal and object would you draw together to represent Australia?

2. Investigate the concept of colonisation and the effect it has on contemporary Australian society. Consider Indigenous perspectives. Research artists who have produced work on this subject. Select two artworks that are indicative of the impact of colonisation in Australia, then use the Four Steps of Art Criticism to analyse these works and write a short essay to support your visual analysis.

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