Parbhu Makan


NameParbhu Makan (he/him)
Country of BirthAotearoa
Place of ResidenceTāmaki Makaurau Auckland
ArtformVisual arts
Decades Active1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s


Parbhu Makan is a photographic artist based in Tāmaki Makaurau. His practice spans posed studio portraits of close family and friends, candid photographs at family gatherings, explorative photographs from his familial village in India, self-portraits, documentation of festivals held in the 1970s and '80s, and stills of performance artworks. Makan chooses to keep much of his work relatively private, with his archive held in many Tupperware containers at his home.

As a third-generation Indian New Zealander, many of Makan’s photographs offer a glimpse into the homes in Aotearoa that contain more than one culture and show that these spaces of hybridity have been around for many decades. The titles of Makan’s photographs are often drawn from the artist’s annotations on the back of the prints. While visiting family in Wellington, Makan took the image, Chandu’s, Parbu’s Mama’s Place, Wellington, 1970s. The living room in the background of the image has a CRT television with a model of Basil Brush on top of it, with an ornamental glass cabinet next to it that holds a bust of Gandhi and a sculpture of the head of Buddha. There are more family portraits on the walls, another portrait of Gandhi, cassettes and a cassette player, records and a record player, and a heavily patterned carpet with a standing ashtray, while in the foreground, a child wearing pants and a patterned collared shirt is partially blurred as he walks past the camera softly smiling. Makan’s images captured what everyday Indian New Zealand homes and culture looked like in the '70s and '80s.

In 1976 Makan visited his familial village in India — his second visit after going as a small child. The images he took of his family in India are much less intimate, many of them posed, and in the candid images, the subject is not looking at the photographer. They present a rare glimpse of the distance that can be felt by third culture kids, visiting ancestral homes they are genealogically connected to, but personally unfamiliar with.

Originally the photographs that Makan took in the 1970s and early '80s were shown at Real Pictures Gallery, a dealer gallery in Tāmaki Makaurau which operated from 1979 until 1990. These images were shown in several group and solo exhibitions, including Four Auckland Photographers (1980), An Indian Wedding (1982), Views To Construction (1985) and Parbhu Makan (1985).

Makan graduated with a Diploma of Fine Arts after studying photography at Elam in the early '70s, where Jim Allen was teaching at the time. Allen’s post-object and performance art practice was highly influential throughout this cohort. Makan’s peers were artists like Bruce Barber and Fiona Clark, who became the subjects in his photographic works at that time. The documentation that Makan took of Barber’s performance work Bucket Action was shown in the exhibition Groundswell: Avant-Garde Auckland 1971–79 (2019) at Auckland Art Gallery. In 1979 he performed in a series of Phil Dadson’s performance artworks that were shown in Mildura: An Exhibit Featuring 17 Contemporary N.Z. Artists, an exhibition that toured Aotearoa following its presentation at the Mildura Sculpture Triennial.

As Andrew Clark has noted in Art New Zealand, Makan didn’t pursue a career in art. Instead he worked as a house painter and raised his daughter, but kept taking photographs of those who were close to him for his own photographic archive. According to the Matakana Pictures records, after taking a break from photography (1987 onwards), Makan picked up the practice again in 2003.

Incrementally, Makan began showing photographs he had taken before he moved away from exhibiting. In 2005, Makan developed some film that he had taken in 1977, exhibiting it in Solaris, a group exhibition at Matakana Pictures (2005 to 2006). Makan became his own subject in a series of self-portraits he initially showed at Real Pictures Gallery in the early '80s and then exhibited again a group exhibition at Michael Lett that included the work of Juliette Blightman, Kate Newby and Henrik Olesen (2018) and in the solo exhibition Parbhu Makan: Self Portraits at Pah Homestead (2020).

In 2022, Makan’s photographs of his family in Aotearoa and in India were shown at Te Tuhi in a group exhibition curated by Dilohana Lekamge, titled The house is full. Makan’s photographs were shown alongside works by Emily Karaka, John Miller, and Teuane Tibbo.

Makan still takes photographs of friends and family and develops film that he stores at home.


Key works / presentations

2022 —The house is full, Te Tuhi, Tāmaki Makaurau

2020 — Parbhu Makan: Self Portraits, Pah Homestead, Tāmaki Makaurau

2019 — Groundswell: Avant-Garde Auckland 1971–79, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Tāmaki Makaurau

2018 — Untitled group exhibiton with Juliette Blightman, Kate Newby and Henrik Olesen, Michael Lett, Tāmaki Makaurau

1985 — Parbhu Makan, Real Pictures Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau

1985 — Views To Construction, Real Pictures Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau

1982 — An Indian Wedding, Real Pictures Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau

1980 — Four Auckland Photographers, Real Pictures Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau

Last updated: 29 February 2024 Suggest an Edit