Poorman, Beggarman, Thief, 1996
Fiberglass mannequin, hairpiece, card, stand, clothing
lifesize model
Sweeney Vesty Collection

Born 1968, Porirua, New Zealand; lives in Auckland, New Zealand

The Maori artist Michael Parekowhai’s sculptures and installations concern stereotypes of Maori identity. Poorman, Beggarman, Thief is modeled on the artist’s father, whose name is Hori. Although Hori is a Maori name in New Zealand (a translation of the name George), it is also used by non-Maori as a derogatory term for Maori people. The pejorative meaning of the name, along with the titles of the works, contrasts with the figure’s formal dress and presence in an art gallery. By inserting an ugly cultural stereotype into the gallery, Parekowhai is playfully turning assumptions about Maori people on their head.

Kapahaka is a newly commissioned work for the exhibition Paradise Now? Contemporary Art from the Pacific. The Maori artist has used his brother as a model for this series of life-size casts. On one level, the artist might be offering a playful riff on the present climate of heightened security in New York, but the work also suggests other issues relating to the protection of Maori traditions. Kapahaka is the name given to Maori traditional performing arts. By transforming the usually invisible security guard into performer, Parekowhai speculates on how traditions might be interpreted by current life experiences.

Asia Society chat with the artist:

Maoris are the indigenous people of New Zealand, and I am one of them, and since I am at home - I live in New Zealand - there is no issue about having a place to belong. When I come to a place like New York, it is much more of a transient thing, it is only temporary; I will always go home. Home always travels with you, too, so rather than it being necessarily a physical place, it is mostly a mental place. So we can live in lots of different places but there is only one place we call ‘home’.

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