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The English Channel



Michael Parekowhai

New Zealand

1968 -


Larger than life and created from highly polished steel, Michael Parekowhai’s The English Channel is an arresting sculptural presence. The figure, with flowing topcoat and ponytail, is the British navigator Captain James Cook. But this is not Cook as he is seen in the many historical monuments that bear his name – or in the famous 1776 portrait painting by Nathaniel Dance which is one inspiration for this sculpture. Resting on a sculptor’s working table with his feet suspended above ground, this Cook seems to be reflecting on his legacy in the contemporary world. At the same time, his dazzling surface collects the reflection of everything around it – including viewers looking at it. Despite the sculpture’s considerable height and weight, this mirror-like surface lends The English Channel a slippery and elusive presence, as if to suggest how perceptions shift depending on where one is standing. This charged relationship with place was heightened, in the sculpture’s debut presentation in Sydney, by its physical location within the Gallery, in front of windows overlooking the harbour that Cook sailed past in 1770. The result is a monument of a very contemporary kind – not a full stop marking the end of a story but a question mark inviting response and reflection.




Media category


Materials used

stainless steel




257.0 x 166.0 x 158.0 cm


Purchased with funds provided by Peter Weiss AO 2016

Accession number


Artist information

Michael Parekowhai

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

  • Michael Parekowhai, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 09 Mar 2017–16 Nov 2017

Referenced in 4 publications


Robert Leonard, Art Monthly Australasia, 'Michael Parekowhai, the empire of light', Canberra, Jun 2017-Jul 2017, cover (colour illus.). not AGNSW edition

John McDonald, Sydney Morning Herald, 'Michael Parekowhai's Promised Land delivers plenty', Sydney, 05 Jun 2015, (colour illus.). not AGNSW edition

Maud Page, Michael Parekowhai: The promised land, 'On the home front', pg.17-28, Brisbane, 2015, front cover (colour illus., detail), 21 and 24 (colour illus., detail). not AGNSW edition

Justin Paton, Look, 'The visitor', pg.32-36, Sydney, Jul 2017-Aug 2017, 32-33 (colour illus.), 34, 35 (colour illus.).