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Shigeyuki Kihara ‘Vavau – tales from ancient Samoa

Shigeyuki Kihara ‘Vavau – tales from ancient Samoa’ Bartley Nees Gallery 20 July – 14 August 2004

Dramatic, dark and hauntingly beautiful portraits of the artist depicted in various roles from Samoan mythology make up Shigeyuki Kihara’s first solo exhibition with the Bartley Nees Gallery, opening later this month.

In Vavau – Tales from Ancient Samoa post-modern art meets Pacific folklore to create a unique and compelling body of work. Following in the footsteps of internationally renowned artists such as Yasumasa Morimura, the Japanese artist who inserts himself into famous Western painting and America’s Cindy Sherman who portrays herself in a myriad of different roles, Kihara has looked to her own roots for inspiration

As a fa’afine [the Samoan term for a transgender person] of Samoan and Japanese descent, Kihara blurs the boundaries of definition in both her life and art practice. Winner of the 2003 Creative New Zealand Emerging Pacific Island Artist Award, she creates strikingly original art that embraces depiction of one particular cultural history with the critiquing of another.

Her new photographic works show moments in a specific Samoan folktales or ‘fagono’. Playing homage to her Samoan heritage through the telling of traditional narrative, she subtly parodies a history of European representation of Pacific peoples in art, particularly the so-called dusky maiden velvet-painting genre.

‘Where the velvet painters are notorious for portraying Pacific people from the colonial gaze, what I do is re-occupy that gaze” she says. “I come from a point of view from the insider” (Shigeyuki Kihara, 2004)

The sultry portraits of idealised Polynesian beauties and the infamous velvet paintings by artists such as Charles McPhee are now prize commodity items in the fashionable retro chic of collectibles and interior design. Yet typically Kihara uses this to advantage. Seducing the viewer with visual language of staged photography, her works are both ironic and poignant, for our sultry dusky maiden is no longer. She was once a he, and she re-occupies the ‘gaze’ with awareness and self-control.

“Shigeyuki Kihara was born to defy categorisation. Her very existence blurs and challenges the organisation of mainstream thought and practise. What is special about her however is her successful negotiation of the interstices that could otherwise have rendered her incredible. She has stood uncompromisingly in her own marginalised space, fully intending the world to come to her.” Jim Vivieaere, 2003

Trained originally in fashion design, Kihara has developed her multi-disciplinary practice to encompass stage performance (Pasifika Divas), fashion, illustration, design and photography. Her breakthrough came in 2000 when Te Papa purchased her work Teuanoa’I - Adorn to Excess - a collection of 28 T-shirts displaying altered corporate logos.

This controversial ‘logo-jamming’ targeted large companies who employ large numbers of low paid pacific islanders and subverted mainstream brands with a pacific twist. Over the last few years Kihara has been exhibiting widely and has most recently been included in the City Gallery Wellington biennial survey exhibition ‘Prospect’ 2004.

ENDS

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