After graduating with a Bachelor of Visual Arts from The University of Auckland at Mankau School of Visual Arts, Leilani went on to complete her Master of Fine Arts. Soon after she worked for Tangata Whenua Television. In 2008 Leilani received the Salamander Gallery Creative New Zealand Emerging Pacific Artist Award. Her work has travelled extensively throughout the Pacific, Taiwan and the United States of America.
Leilani instils her art with herself, the works are visually and emotionally engaging while also provocative. Her work is reflective of both her Māori and Cook
Leilani's art touches upon the social and spiritual and work. In 2008 as her father Richard Kake was dying, not knowing what to do, Leilani instinctively picked up her camera, putting it between her and the devastating passing of her father. There was anger amongst her family that Leilani could go against Māori tradition and record the events but knowing her father's constant encouragement of her art Leilani kept filming. After her father's burial, the footage helped Leilani to heal. Tino Rangatira Tanga is not so much about death as it is about life. The installation calls the audience into the space where three monitors create a semi-circle around the viewer. The monitors play footage of Richard Kake receiving his Ta Moko Rangatira (chiefly facial tattoo) with boys performing a Māori chant paying homage to their chief followed by a hangi (feast) to celebrate the event; the last days of his life and funeral; and a compilation of photographs of Richard and whanau (family) through the years. This is Leilani's tribute to her father's memory. This work, like the others, is healing part of Leilani's journey through her art.
Leilani has exhibited in a number of group and solo exhibitions including: The Perpetual Flux of Transitional Otherness, Olly, 2017; Home AKL, Auckland Art Gallery, 2012; Ngā Hau E Whā – The Four Winds, Fresh Gallery Otara, 2011; Native Coconut, Fresh Gallery Otara, 2010; Tino Rangatira Tanga, Wellington, Auckland 2009 – 2010;Pan Pacific Nation, Marks Garage, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2009; Le Folauga, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan, 2009; I Te Marama – Into the Light, Nathan Homestead, Auckland, 2008; Ariki / Talking Tivaevae, MIC Toi Rerehiko Media & Interdisciplinary Arts Centre, 2008; Longitude, The Art Studio, Rarotonga, Cook Islands, 2007; (Re)Locating Home, Alliance Française de Suva, Fiji / Fresh Gallery Otara, Auckland, 2006; South Contained Unit, ArtNet Gallery, Auckland, 2004; Red Earth Project, Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, 2001.