Coconuts that grew from concrete
18 May – 1 July 2017
Artspace presents a new body of work from Yuki Kihara, of Japanese and Samoan heritage, focusing on her handmade and digital collage works including a site-specific installation in the main gallery. The exhibition brings a selection of digital collages and experimentations with industrial printing techniques, all recently produced by the artist while in Samoa. Borrowing photographic images from public archives and private collections, the artist juxtaposes these iconic postures with classical examples of the Western gaze, pulling from the established canon of ‘exotic’ or ‘orientalist’ imagery. Kihara’s strategy is to destabilise this canon; the colonial subject as an object of desire finds itself in an intersection between portraiture and landscape. The collages are installed within a spectrum of the Samoan landscape, what is conceived of as both the projection of an escapist paradise and also a dystopian reality.
“The title of my exhibition is adapted from the poem ‘Roses That Grew From Concrete’ by poet and rapper 2pac (otherwise known as Tupac Shakur) which describes the experience of persevering in the face of tyranny. The exhibition title also plays on the contradictory use of ‘coconuts’: on one hand as a derogatory term, often directed at Pacific migrants living in urban concrete jungles in the diaspora. From a Samoan perspective however, coconuts are seen as a prized fruit able to drift across the ocean and take root in new lands, providing sustenance to new communities. The series examines the intersecting legacies between Samoan colonial photographs and traditional Western European portraiture, and how they shape our present realities.” (Excerpt from Artist statement)
Yuki Kihara is one of New Zealand’s leading interdisciplinary artists whose work explores the varying relationships and intersections between gender, race, sexuality, culture and politics. Kihara’s work has been presented at the Asia Pacific Triennial (2002 & 2015); Metropolitan Museum of Art (Solo exhibition, 2008); Auckland Triennial (2009); Sakahàn Quinquennial (2013); Daegu Photo Biennial (2014); and the Honolulu Biennial (2017). Kihara’s work has also been exhibited at the Zendai Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai; Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan; Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Musée du Quai Branly, Paris; Trondheim Kunstmuseum, Norway; Utah Museum of Fine Arts, USA; de Young Fine Art Museum of San Francisco, USA; Orange County Museum of Art, USA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA; Allen Memorial Art Museum, USA; Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, New Caledonia; Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane and Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand among others. Her recent dance production ‘Them and Us’ (2015) co-directed with Jochen Roller (Berlin) premiered at Sophiensaele Theatre, Berlin and then toured several theatre venues across Europe.
Kihara is currently a Fellow at the Research Centre for Material Culture awarded by the National Museum of Material Cultures, Netherlands.
Solo exhibitions from Sarah Smuts-Kennedy, Shannon Te Ao, and Yuki Kihara take place within the framework of Singular Pluralities ∞ Plural Singularities, a series of solo exhibitions which began in 2015. Focusing on artistic research and exhibition methodology, the series experiments with installation strategies, and event structures.
“O le ala i le pule o le tautua”: Questions of pule (authority) and tautua (service) posed by Yuki Kihara’s “Coconuts that grew from concrete”
Saturday July 8, 2pm
“O le ala i le pule o le tautua” is a Samoan alaga‘upu or proverb meaning, “The way to authority is service.” It implies that in order to become a community’s leader one must first have performed acts of service for that community. By superimposing the faces of historical Samoans onto portraits of European aristocrats and other figures of power, Kihara’s work makes us question who gets to have pule over which resources and locations around the world in the present, past and future. Like the alaga‘upu, “Coconuts…” prompts us to question whether that pule is truly deserved or well-earnt. The common knowledge that the West’s colonial power was largely unearnt, unpaid for in terms of tautua, looms large in the historical background that this work brings to mind; but what finer point is Kihara making?
Through the work’s mimicry, even its mockery, of canonical Western artists, we can take our reflection further: is the artist a leader, an authority, a civil servant, or even a lowly servant doing wider society’s dirty work for it? Further still; who does Kihara’s work serve? Is it art galleries and dealers; herself as an individual; the Samoan people; or a mostly non-Samoan general public? I want to unpack the way in which “Coconuts…” itself poses these questions back to us even before we bring them to bear on it. Could this make Kihara’s works a new kind of measina Samoa (Samoan fine art) for our contemporary context? Or are they in fact something much closer to the historical postcards and commercial photographs she has used as her raw material, which sometimes misinform the naïve viewer by playing up to what Western audiences wanted to see rather than documenting Samoan culture as it really was.
Finally, I want to consider Kihara’s work in relation to the millennia old relays of tautua between the coconut and our Polynesian ancestors, which comprised a cultivation process without which many varieties of coconut, both common and rare, would not exist today, spread from Madagascar to Panama. Because we Pacific Islanders have served the coconut palm, it has served and led us – and vice versa. Should this not give ethnic Pacific Islanders a certain pule over the Pacific ocean by rights? Or will the nations lying north of Brandt Line continue in their efforts to wrest away our pule without the prerequisite tautua?
Daniel Michael Satele is a mixed-race Samoan writer from West Auckland. His career spans academic and creative writing; music; performance and several kinds of creative production. Along with writing, his passions are singing, gardening and Pacific weaving traditions. He holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Auckland, where he is now a doctoral candidate writing a thesis on blood in vampire novels, 1897 to 2005.
In 2017 Satele’s poetry is being included as artwork in the Waikato Museum exhibition Cold Islanders, curated by Leafa Wilson.
Satele’s essays have appeared in ArtAsiaPacific, The New Zealand Listener, and Art New Zealand. In 2014 he curated an online exhibition called The Drowned World for Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust. Satele’s fiction appeared in a major anthology of Pacific literature called Niu Voices in 2006. In 2003 he was runner-up to the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Award.
Level 1, 300 Karangahape Road
(above the Newton Post Office)
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 6pm
Saturday 11am – 4pm (during shows)
Gallery admission is free
Ph: +64 9 303 4965
Image Credit: Yuki Kihara, Odalisque (After Boucher), 2017, from the series ‘Coconuts that grew from concrete’.
Thanks to Milford Galleries Dunedin.< BACK TO LISTINGS