Shigeyuki Kihara: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
PATAKA Art + Museum, Porirua, New Zealand
16 February – 25 May 2014
Courtesy of Shigeyuki Kihara Studio and Milford Galleries Dunedin.
This recent series of photographic works by Shigeyuki Kihara portray the artist performing a fictitious narrative in the guise of her alter-ego ‘Salome’ a resurrected late nineteenth century Samoan woman. In the photographic series we see Salome as a silent witness to contemporary Samoan culture and society following the aftermath of tsunami Galu Afi in 2009, 2012′s celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Samoa’s independence and the recent destruction caused by cyclone Evan. Through culturally loaded narrative tableaux, Kihara poses the questions of ‘Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?’ to focus enquiry on the meaning and future of contemporary Samoa.
Kihara lifts the title for this series of works from an iconic painting by Paul Gauguin, completed in Tahiti shortly before his death in 1897. While referencing the aging French artist’s struggle with the meaning of existence, Kihara challenges the stereotype of the South Seas as an untroubled earthly paradise. Instead, she portrays an isolated nation entwined in a complex web of interwoven histories.
The eleven images in this exhibition were selected out from a total body of twenty photographic works. Although themes of post-colonial destruction and renewal run throughout the series, the space limitations of this gallery necessitated editing. Our final selection was guided by the intention to present a cohesive lineal narrative; beginning with a well-preserved edifice of Western colonization followed by disintegration and natural destruction, and culminating in a vision of cautious optimism.
The restrictive Victorian mourning gown worn by Kihara’s character is similar to the garment worn by the sitter in Thomas Andrew’s historical photograph Samoan Half Caste, 1886, (MONZ Te Papa Tongarewa collection). In every image her tightly corseted black clad figure turns away from the viewer, negating the European fantasy of Samoan women as sexually provocative and resisting the male colonial gaze.
Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? 2013 accompanies a larger survey exhibition of Kihara’s work titled Culture for Sale at City Gallery Wellington.