Michael Parekowhai

Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1968
Ngā Ariki Kaiputahi, Ngāti Whakarongo, Rongowhakaata, Māori

Poorman, Beggarman, Thief (Poorman)

  • Purchased with the support of Christchurch City Council's Challenge Grant to the Christchurch Art Gallery Trust, 2011.
  • Fibreglass mannequin with black tie, dinner suit and name tag
  • 1800 x 550 x 450mm
  • 2011/016
  • 1996

“The thing about identity – it’s much more complicated than just being Māori or just being this or just being that.” — Michael Parekowhai

The title of this work recalls the old children’s rhyme that lists tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. Chanted to suggest careers for boys, or who a girl might marry, the song removes all self-determination. The implication here is that for Māori the options are limited. Modelled on the artist’s father, Poorman’s suave appearance is undercut by the name badge reading “Hello my name is Hori” – a transliteration of George (Parekowhai’s father’s name), but also a common racist term for Māori. Parekowhai says, “I make objects that set a scene or present a stage on which other things can happen, on which the real art can take place.” Poorman operates on many levels – its visual appeal is quickly replaced by discomfort as we realise we might be looking at the subject of racism dressed up in a dinner suit.

(Te Wheke, 2020)

earlier labels about this work
  • The title of Michael Parekowhai’s work comes from a children’s counting game, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief. You might have used it for counting cherry stones, or choosing whose turn it was to go next. It came with a dose of casual sexism, of course: for boys of earlier generations, it suggested what you were going to be when you grew up; for girls, who you might marry. When Parekowhai used the last three ‘occupations’ on the list to title three life-size mannequin sculptures, each depicting a well-set-up young Māori man, the implication was that there was no game of chance involved for Māori—that the social die was already cast.

    Parekowhai modelled the figure of the young Māori man on his father. Poorman wears a sharp suit with a black tie, and his hair is immaculate. He looks more than a little like an entertainer from the 1960s, a member of one of the Māori showbands like the Howard Morrison Quartet or The Quin Tikis or The Diplomats. He has a name tag attached to his jacket pocket, as if he were attending some tedious function: Hello, My Name is Hori. Hori is a transliteration of Parekowhai senior’s first name, George. It’s also the name that was commonly used in the 1950s and 60s in racist jokes made by Pākehā about Māori. One way and another, this is a deeply uncomfortable work that confronts—and also confounds—stereotypes of Māori identity.

    (Your Hotel Brain 13 May 2017 - 8 July 2018)