The Colonial Elephant in the Room: Michael Parekōwhai’s The Lighthouse and Captain James Cook

  • Alanna O'Riley University of Auckland
Keywords: Captain James Cook, Colonial monument, Colonisation, Michael Parekōwhai, The Lighthouse, Aotearoa New Zealand, Public art, Statue, Identity


Imperial rule has long been supported by the establishment of monuments. However, in our current climate of tumultuous politics and failing social systems, these monuments occupy increasingly shaky ground. Given a growing crusade against monumental statues the public silence on Michael Parekōwhai’s statue of Captain James Cook in The Lighthouse (Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand, 2017) is deafening. In Aotearoa New Zealand, Captain James Cook is a familiar, albeit divisive, figure. To some, Cook is known as a British navigator, explorer, and cartographer; a founder of nations, friend to natives, with enlightened and scientific motivations. To indigenous communities, Cook was the thief, murderer, and kidnapper who knowingly spread disease when arriving in the Pacific with the intent to find ample land for the British Crown to colonise. This essay explores the significance of the statue of Cook within The Lighthouse, particularly in relation to the legacy of colonial monuments and memorialisation. In The Lighthouse, sculptor Michael Parekōwhai recasts Cook as a complex emblem of personal and collective identity, highlighting issues of place, legacy, and sovereignty. Parekōwhai revises the role of the colonial monument, reclaiming Cook as an instrument in the balancing of historical and national narratives.


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How to Cite
O’Riley, A. (2022). The Colonial Elephant in the Room: Michael Parekōwhai’s The Lighthouse and Captain James Cook. Back Story Journal of New Zealand Art, Media & Design History, (10), 79-93.