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Photographs by Samoan Multimedia Artist On View at Metropolitan Museum
Fa'a Fafine: In a Manner of a Woman, Triptych 1, Fa'a Fafine: In a Manner of a Woman series, Chromogenic print on "Fujicolor Professional Paper", 2004-2005, Overall: 23 5/8 x 31 1/2 in. (60 x 80 cm), Purchase, Evelyn A.J. Hall Charitable Trust and Stephanie H. Bernheim Gifts, 2007 (2007.357). Courtesy of artist Shigeyuki Kihara and photographer Sean Coyle.

NEW YORK.- Sixteen photographs by contemporary artist Shigeyuki Kihara (b. 1975, Samoa) are on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This marks the first presentation of Samoan contemporary art at the Museum. Shigeyuki Kihara: Living Photographs explores themes of Pacific culture, identity, colonialism, indigenous spirituality, stereotypes, gender roles, and consumerism. Works on view include a hauntingly beautiful picture from the artist’s 2004 Vavau series called Taema ma Tilafaiga: Goddess of Tatau, depicting Samoan goddesses chanting about the art of tattooing, as well as a highly praised work titled Fa’a fafine: In a Manner of a Woman, Triptych 1-3, a sequence of photographs, in which the artist re-create and addresses a Samoan portrait genre, in which women were posed as reclining “South Seas Belles.” All works on view were printed this year by the artist in Auckland, New Zealand, except two from the Metropolitan’s own collection. Complementing the exhibition will be a performance by the artist, Taualuga: The Last Dance, in the Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium on October 19.

The exhibition is made possible by the Friends of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

“Kihara has created exceptionally beautiful and inventive works that simultaneously merge colonial images, performance, and contemporary photography,” said Virginia-Lee Webb, Research Curator in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. “Her ‘living photographs,’ as she calls them, are visually powerful commentaries about moments in the history of art, differing cultural traditions, and outsiders’ perceptions of them.”

Born in Samoa in 1975 to a Japanese father and Samoan mother, Shigeyuki Kihara lived in Indonesia and Japan before she immigrated to New Zealand in 1989. She obtained an Advanced Diploma in Fashion Design and Technology at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand. Kihara’s works are in the collection of various New Zealand museums, including Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, Waikato Museum of Arts and History in Hamilton, and the University of Auckland. In Australia, works are in the collection of the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; and in England at the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. She currently lives and works in Auckland.

The works on view are selected from four series of Kihara’s recent work. In the Black Sunday series (2001-2), she uses collage and digital photography to comment on how Samoans were pictured in19th-century colonial images. Among the works on view from the series is Gossip Sessions, showing three women preparing food; the artist remade the original photograph by adding on to the subject pastel-colored T-shirts made of paper collage and then re-photographing it. Her signature series entitled Fa’a fafine: In a Manner of a Woman (2004-5) is a powerful and forthright combination of social commentary and rigorous art practice addressing cultural and gender perceptions through performance and the medium of photography. “Fa’a fafine” is a Samoan word for a person who was born biologically male, who expresses feminine gender identities and lives as a female. For this series, the artist re-created studio tableaux by photographing herself as both a man and a woman in poses that mimic colonial images of Pacific Islanders; through the works, she examines Western perceptions and stereotypes as well as issues of gender identity. In the Fale Aitu: House of Spirits series (2003), the artist transformed herself into various guises, each humanized manifestation celebrating aspects of the coconut tree, an essential plant in Samoa. A striking example from the series featured in the installation is Lalava Taupou: Lashing Maiden, in which Kihara is wearing a dramatic headdress made from coconut sennit, or fiber. For another series entitled Vavau: Tales from Ancient Samoa (2004), she presents herself as characters in Samoan legends; three photographs from this series are included in the exhibition.

The exhibition is organized by Virginia-Lee Webb. The exhibition will be featured on the Museum’s website (

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