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Art Review: The Intersectional Experiences of Fa’afafine – Yuki Kihara on Representing New Zealand at the 59th Venice Biennale

Two Faʻafafine (After Gauguin) [2020] (detail) from Paradise Camp [2020] series by Yuki Kihara. Image courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand

ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists and curators exhibiting in and curating the various national pavilions of the 2022 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the leadup to and during the Venice Biennale, which runs from 23 April to 27 November.

Yuki Kihara is representing New Zealand; the pavilion is in the Arsenale.

ArtReview What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

Yuki Kihara Paradise Camp explores the intersectional experiences of Fa’afafine – Sāmoa’s ‘ʻthird gender’ LGBTIQ+ community that I belong to. It was produced in Sāmoa prior to the global pandemic and involved almost 100 people. I wouldn’t have been able to produce Paradise Camp with all the social distancing rules we have at the moment, so I count myself lucky to have been able to commence work so early. Even though the majority of the work had been made when the Biennale Arte was postponed in 2020, the work and its context have a timeless quality – it’s now more relevant than ever.

The exhibition is an interplay of words, where the camp aesthetic is deployed to challenge the popular romanticism commonly associated with the Moana Pacific being a remote and untouched paradise that often masks the reality of Indigenous experiences. It also explores the legacy of the New Zealand colonial administration of Sāmoa and the resilience of Fa’afafine.

AR Why is the Venice Biennale still important?

YK The unique format of the Venice Biennale, including the curated group exhibition and the national pavilions, provide a rich conversation, however, I don’t think the relationship between the two events are nuanced enough in the public discourse. The 59th Venice Biennale is not only the first edition to happen during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it also marks a turbulent time in global history where waves of social justice movements – Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, climate justice, Trans visibility and Indigenous sovereignty, to name a few – are all coming together. So I see the 59th Venice Biennale being a crucial moment in his/her/theirstory by turning the page.

Read the interview in full here on Art Review’s website.