Plagiarism controversy stalks the 2020 Parkin Prize Winner

0:00
play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Forward Slash by Poppy Lekner has been likened to ‘/ (forward slash)’ by Joel Swanson. Lekner’s artwork earned her the 2020 $25 000 Park Prize
Forward Slash by Poppy Lekner has been likened to ‘/ (forward slash)’ by Joel Swanson. Lekner’s artwork earned her the 2020 $25 000 Park Prize
  • On 3 August 2020 the prize was awarded to photomedia artist Poppy Lekner for her work Forward Slash.
  • On 10 August 2020 Lekner was accused of plagiarising the work that she submitted for the prize.
  • Chris Parkin, the philanthropist behind the art prize says he is “quite satisfied with the integrity or the sincerity of the artist."


The Parkin Prize is an annual national award that works at promoting the artistic discipline of drawing in New Zealand.  The award is open to all who permanently live in New Zealand or have citizenship in the country. Together with a $25,000 prize, each year’s winning entry is added to the Parkin drawing collection.


The prize was set up by Chris Parkin: a patron of the arts in New Zealand and former owner of the country’s only boutique art hotel in Wellington: Museum Art Hotel.

On 3 August 2020 the prize was awarded to photomedia artist Poppy Lekner for her work Forward Slash. The artwork was chosen from a selection of 482 entries.

In motivating Lekner’s win, the head of art at Te Papa (New Zealand’s national museum) and chair of the 2020 Parkin Prize judging panel, Charlotte Davy told New Zealand news platform Stuff the following:

It's such a beautiful minimal work where she's really exploring a kind of meditation of process, literally just repeating forward-slash over and over again ... creating a beautiful woven pattern… I felt it was really delicate, strong, and it spoke a lot to me about finding a place of contemplation in a world that feels quite chaotic.

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, Lekner says she completed the artwork a day before entries for the Parkin Prize closed. Apart from describing Forward Slash as “a different way to look at what drawing can be” Lekner also said the following to the New Zealand Herald:

I have worked on lots of different explorations using the typewriter but I hadn't committed as much time previously as I had in this work, which required dedication because using a typewriter to mark make is quite a laborious thing.

A week after winning the prize, Lekner was accused of plagiarising the work that she submitted.

Alan MacDonald, an artist who also submitted work for the prize in 2020 flagged Lekner’s work for its likeness to a piece by Joel Swanson of the same name, / (forward slash). Lekner's Forward Slash was made by typing forward slashes on an A4 piece of paper using a typewriter. Swanson, an American artist based in Colorado, says he first made his Forward Slash in 2015 as a part of a series of non-alphanumeric patterns made with a typewriter.

Commenting on Lekner’s work Swanson said the following:

While I have no reason to believe that the similar work in question was created intentionally or maliciously, this situation highlights how important it is for artists and institutions to vet their work and ideas.

Both Lekner and Swanson’s artworks are similar to the artwork Dattilograme Typwriter Poem? by Maurizio Nannucci.

In defending her award winning work, Lekner says her work was made “in good faith” and that she was only made aware of Swanson’s work after she had won the prize.

The prize’s founder, Parkin told New Zealand Herald how such controversy adds “spice” to the art world and that he is “quite satisfied with the integrity or the sincerity of the artist."

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24