July 01, 2013 - December 31, 2013
Sponsored by The James Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland
The title of Shigeyuki Kihara’s new body of work, Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?, is lifted from a large-scale painting by Paul Gauguin completed in 1897 shortly before he died in Tahiti. Kihara uses these questions to frame her examination of Samoan culture and society following the tsunami of 2009, last year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Samoa’s independence and, most recently, the destruction caused by Cyclone Evan. Taking inspiration from a late 19th-century photograph Samoan Half Caste by New Zealand photographer Thomas Andrew, Kihara dons a Victorian mourning dress and appears as her alter-ego ‘Salome’ photographed in selected locations across Upolu island Samoa that are pointed allusions to the social, religious, economic and political issues the artist wishes to highlight. Referencing the staged photographic postcards of the ‘South Seas’, Salome’s lone figure stands as silent witness to scenes of political, historical and cultural importance in present-day Samoa. She turns the camera on her country’s colonial past, the impact of burgeoning globalisation, ideas of indigeneity and the role of government in an independent Samoa. Kihara “unpacks the myth” of her country as an untouched Pacific paradise as seen through the eyes of colonial powers and tourist photographs.