Traversing the topics of small island ecologies, queer rights and decolonisation, Yuki Kihara’s Paradise Camp at La Biennale di Venezia 2022 marks a number of firsts for Aotearoa New Zealand’s national pavilion as the artist selected is Pasifika, Asian and Fa’afafine, Sāmoa’s third gender. Kihara’s timely and ambitious presentation, curated by Natalie King, encompasses archival research, photography, video and socially engaged methods to explore the ongoing Sāmoa-New Zealand relations from a Fa’afafine perspective.
For this project, Kihara “upcycled” paintings by French post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin, created during his time in Tahiti and the Marquesas between 1891 and 1903, and drew on her own extensive research, or Vārchive, on the Sāmoan origins and gender-neutrality of many of Gauguin’s models. This produced a suite of eleven elaborately staged and vibrant photographic portraits, shot on location in Sāmoa, with an additional self-portrait of Kihara as Gauguin. Kihara’s photographs are presented against an immersive wallpaper of a coastal landscape decimated by the 2009 tsunami, making Paradise Camp a reclamation of Gauguin’s imagined Pacific through a contemporary Pasifika, Fa’afafine lens.
As the only Aotearoa publication on the ground at Venice during the opening week, HUM visited the New Zealand pavilion in the Arsenale and sat down with Kihara to discuss her experience representing Aotearoa in the midst of a pandemic, her research processes and plans to bring the exhibition back to the Pacific, and the significance of bringing Fa’afafine narratives to an international audience.
CONTEMPORARY HUM With the Biennale pushed back one year due to the pandemic, can you tell us about the impact on and changes to the project in your preparation for Venice in the last couple of years? For example, you originally wanted to bring mediators from Sāmoa to speak to visitors in the exhibition space but this wasn’t possible unfortunately.
YUKI KIHARA The biggest hurdle that was felt from the global pandemic was the fundraising. This was the trickiest part because you can’t fundraise over Zoom. So every time we were able to host gatherings in Aotearoa, my gallerists had to quickly organise a series of fundraisers across the country to galvanise support and to help fund the project. I also made additional artworks for sale in order to make it happen, because the Arsenale rent is really expensive.
I’ve had this space in mind since my site visit to Venice in 2019. I could see the wallpaper immediately because it was really important for me with Paradise Camp that people feel really immersed, as if they’re there in Sāmoa.
HUM And did you always know that you were going to have to share the space, which is divided in two, with another pavilion? The Albania Pavilion on the other side of the room is also very different to your presentation.
YK Yes, if I had the whole space to myself, I don’t know what it would be like. But because I only took half of the space, a lot of the energy that I had scoped for a whole space instead became supercharged into that one half. Of course, I’m presenting my work to be very considerate of our neighbours, with regards to the audio from my video work leaking to other spaces.
It’s great, because it’s such a stark contrast but we both complement each other.
Read the interview in full here on Contemporary Hum’s website.