Sharon Lam goes in search of Yuki Kihara’s Paradise Camp, the New Zealand pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale.
While there is deep literature behind it – the entire body of work was first inspired by an essay written by academic Ngahuia Te Awekotuku on Paul Gaugin’s exoticised paintings of Tahitian people – the pavilion in Venice is a breath of warm, approachable air. The space itself is open and colourful. Rare for the Biennale, Kihara herself is literally in the work. In a video playing in the centre of the room, she talks to herself in the guise of Gaugin, and in group conversations with her collaborators from the fa’afafine community. We directly hear her voice, invited to listen. There is no esoteric layer of theoretical interpretation, these are real people.
On the walls, a photo series “upcycles” Gaugin’s paintings. The compositions reference his paintings, but the models are now spiritually centred, they look at the viewer and know they are being looked at, and control what is being seen. The lighting is uncanny, making the greens and blues of the “paradise” of Sāmoa unreal. Because of course, paradise is unreal. Sāmoa’s international image is, like many other islands under capitalism, manicured for tourism, erasing gender diversity and climate change. Another point of inspiration for Kihara was, after all, how fa’afafine were some of the first post-tsunami volunteers in 2009, but were not allowed to stay in the emergency shelters.
Read the article in full here on The Spinoff’s website.