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  • About the Artist:Yuki Kihara
  • Katerina Teaiwa and Ioana Gordon-Smith

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Photo by Luke Walker

Yuki Kihara is a globally accomplished, award-winning interdisciplinary Pacific artist, researcher, and curator. She is of Samoan and Japanese heritage and identifies as Fa'afafine, a third gender meaning "in the manner of a woman." Her pathbreaking works exist at the critical intersections of gender, indigeneity, history, diaspora, decolonization, and the environment. Kihara studied fashion design and technology at Wellington Polytechnic (now Massey University) in Aotearoa New Zealand, where she later worked as a costume designer and stylist in fashion magazines, the performing arts, and the film industry before forging a distinct career as a contemporary artist, bringing her industry experience into her art practice.

Kihara's career took off following her 2000 exhibition Teuanoa'i: Adorn to Excess. She continued her practice in performance art and lens-based media, developing a series of works including Black Sunday (2002), Faleaitu: House of Spirits (2003), Vavau: Tales of Ancient Sāmoa (2004), and Fa'a fafine: In the Manner of a Woman (2005), all of which were featured in a survey exhibition entitled Living Photographs presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2008. In 2004, Kihara began performing Salomé, a ghostly historical character in black Victorian [End Page vii] dress who travels through time, space, and place, as seen in the silent video work Galu Afi: Waves of Fire (2012), which features Salomé dancing in response to the devastating 2009 Sāmoa tsunami, and the photographic series Where Do We Come From? Where Are We Going? What Are We? (2015), which depicts Salomé visiting key historical sites across Upolu Island, Sāmoa. Salomé bears witness to many significant events, sites, relationships, losses, and memories that become copresent within each successive, evocative, and emplaced image.

Kihara has been a research fellow at the National Museum of World Cultures in the Netherlands since 2017. In 2019, Kihara was selected to represent Aotearoa New Zealand at the prestigious fifty-ninth International Art Exhibition—La Biennale di Venezia and received the Arts Foundation of New Zealand's Laureate award the following year. Her Venice Biennale contribution, Paradise Camp, featured in this issue, has received global coverage and critical acclaim. We felt these occasions warranted a second featuring of her works in The Contemporary Pacific, following her first appearance in 2007.

Kihara lives and works in Sāmoa, where she has resided for the past eleven years.

katerina teaiwa
The Contemporary Pacific

ioana gordon-smith
Porirua, Aotearoa New Zealand [End Page viii]

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Paradise Camp, by Yuki Kihara, 2022. Curated by Natalie King. Installation view. Photo by Luke Walker, courtesy of NZ at Venice.

Developed and presented for the New Zealand Pavilion at the fifty-ninth Venice Biennale in 2022, Yuki Kihara's Paradise Camp interrogates the colonial and heteronormative conception of Paradise. Kihara creates an alternate, queer world that amplifies Fa'afafine voices, countering the colonial legacies of gender and sexuality. At the center of Paradise Camp, which includes performative photographs, archival documents, and films inspired by an unpublished 1992 essay by Māori scholar Ngahuia te Awekotuku, is a suite of photographs that upcycle select paintings by French Impressionist Paul Gauguin, arguably the poster artist for images of Pacific Paradise. With a crew of over a hundred people in Upolu, Sāmoa, and working closely with Fa'afafine models, Kihara restaged Gauguin's paintings in Sāmoa, critiquing Gauguin's impact on representations of Polynesia beyond his original works. In Kihara's photographs, the trials, triumphs, and tribulations of Fa'afafine are displayed in full color, camping the notion of paradise. [End Page ix]

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Three Fa'afafine (After Gauguin), by Yuki Kihara, 2020.

Hannemüle fine art paper, mounted on aluminum, 73 x 94 cm.

Image courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand.

A significant aspect of Kihara's practice is her research into Moana and Queer visual histories. Through this process, Kihara found convincing evidence of Samoan references in the paintings of Paul Gauguin. The middle figure...