New Zealand’s Venice Biennale pavilion opens with Yuki Kihara’s Paradise Camp

By MiNDFOOD

Si‘ou alofa Maria: Hail Mary (After Gauguin), 2020.
Si‘ou alofa Maria: Hail Mary (After Gauguin), 2020.

New Zealand’s pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia has officially opened with Yuki Kihara’s ensemble exhibition Paradise Camp, curated by Natalie King.

Kihara is the first Pacific, Asian and Fa’afafine artist to represent Aotearoa at the Venice Biennale.

Located in the Artiglierie, a central location in the Arsenale, Paradise Camp comprises twelve tableau photographs featuring a cast of Sāmoan Fa’afafine (Sāmoa’s ʻthird gender’), repurposing and upcycling selected paintings by the late post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin.

Inspired by the faleaitu (house of spirits) skits performed in Sāmoan culture, Kihara also casts herself as Gauguin in Paul Gauguin with a hat (After Gauguin). In this ingenious role reversal, Kihara is transformed via silicone prosthetics, costume, moustache and wig.

Shot and filmed on location in Upolu Island, Sāmoa, Kihara’s performative photography is presented against a vast wallpaper of a landscape decimated by the 2009 tsunami, and alongside First Impressions: Paul Gauguin – a five-part talk-show series commissioned by Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen in 2019, where a group of Fa’afafine comment wittily on select Gauguin paintings.

The exhibition features a “Vārchive” – a term coined by Kihara that uses the Sāmoan concept of Vā to describe her relationship with her archive of research.

“My Vārchive includes personal research, rare books by 19th century explorers, colonial portraits, pamphlets, news items, a geological sculpture, activist material and visual links between Gauguin and Sāmoa,” Kihara says.

“It provides a backstory or a living story of how Paradise Camp came into being. Through this, the archive doesn’t become storage for dead information but rather a living entity that helps to provide new meaning in the present and what it might mean in the future.”

Yuki Kihara. Photo: Luke Walker.

A companion publication to the exhibition has been published by Thames and Hudson and edited by Natalie King. Featuring commissioned contributors from around the world, it explores the interwoven strands running through Kihara’s Paradise Camp.

“The book charts Kihara’s alternative, queer world that is both confronting and hypnotic in its humanity, while redrawing the afflictions of colonisation,” notes King.

High-profile contributors include Cuban artist, scholar and activist Coco Fusco, Tahitian author Chantal Spitz, Sāmoan artist and writer Dan Taulapapa McMullin, renowned Gauguin scholar Professor Elizabeth Childs, Filipino curator Patrick Flores, Māori activist, Emeritus Professor and Venerable Elder Scholar Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and scholar and Paradise Camp curator, Natalie King OAM.

In 2023, Paradise Camp will tour to Powerhouse Museum, Sydney and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Auckland.

The 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia will open to the public from 23 April to 27 November 2022.

Yuki Kihara, Paradise Camp, curated by Natalie King. Installation view, Biennale Arte 2022. Photo: Luke Walker.

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