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NZer's art comisssion courts controversy

05:04 Tue Dec 20 2011

A prominent Aboriginal artist has slammed the Queensland government for giving a $A1 million ($NZ1.3 million) sculpture commission to an internationally acclaimed New Zealand artist Michael Parekowhai.

He was awarded the Queensland Premier's Sculpture Commission for his proposed bronze work The World Turns, that will feature a life-sized upended elephant, a chair and a native Australian water marsupial known as a kuril.

The commission is to mark the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) in Brisbane's South Bank precinct.

The award has attracted the ire of indigenous artist Fiona Foley, who in a speech to Arts Queensland's Creative Capital forum last week said the South Bank was "visually barren" of Indigenous art.

"GoMA is spending $1 million on a new Premier of Queensland sculpture, commissioning Maori artist Michael Parekowhai to reference Aboriginal culture," she said.

She has also written to Parekowhai asking him to withdraw from the project until an Aboriginal artist is awarded a similar major commission.

"Your intended public sculpture adds another layer in the writing out of Queensland Aboriginal artists, our stories, our voices, culture, philosophy, intellect, politic and history," she wrote.

Brisbane's Courier-Mail reported GoMA's deputy director Suhanya Raffel as saying the intention for the sculpture commission was always to secure an international artist.

And state Arts Minister Rachel Nolan said the commission was chosen by a committee of experts that included representatives from the Indigenous community.

Parekowhai, an associate professor at Auckland University's Elam School of Fine Arts, was New Zealand's representative at the Venice Biennale in October.

The sculpture will be unveiled next December on the banks of the Brisbane River at Kurilpa Point, which translates as kuril's place.