Michael Parekōwhai

The Bosom of Abraham

Artwork Detail

When Shakespeare's Richard III hears of the death of his two nephews (which he has himself arranged), of their 'alabaster arms' and their lips like 'four red roses', he says: 'the sons of Edward sleep in Abraham's bosom'. Are these two light-filled columns, ornamented with scrolling kowhaiwhai rafter patterns, symbols of death? The Bosom of Abraham in biblical tradition is a metaphor for paradise, for a seat next to Abraham at the heavenly feast. Gregory Burke describes Michael Parekowhai's works as 'courting the enigmatic by laying themselves open to ambiguous and contradictory readings, frequently encouraging one interpretation to be subverted by another'. Parekowhai first exhibited these works in a set of fourteen - the number of rafters in a Māori wharenui. And the wharenui is itself perceived as the body of the ancestor for whom it is named - the rafters representing his ribs, the porch his poho or bosom. The koru symbolises growth and renewal and kowhaiwhai is linked to whakapapa or genealogy, its central continuous line connecting the past and the future. Although in western tradition ancestors can be encountered only after death, in the Māori world ngā tipuna are met and addressed in the wharenui, the heart of the iwi or tribe. Parekowhai's work is a refusal of darkness, a light-filled meditation on the meaning of death, a paradox and a celebration. (from The Guide, 2001)

The Bosom of Abraham
Michael Parekōwhai
Production date
ink on lightbox
1300 x 220 x 80 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1999
Accession no
Copying restrictions apply
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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