Still, Like Air, I’ll Rise
Hannah Brontë, Skawennati, Esther Ige, Lisa Reihana, Salote Tawale, Leafa Wilson & Olga Krause
Curated by Abby Cunnane and Charlotte Huddleston
24 Feb 2017 - 31 Mar 2017
Hannah Brontë, Still I Rise (trial visual), 2015
There is an element of triumph in every gesture of defiance. “But still, like air, I’ll rise” wrote Maya Angelou in 1978. Writing of resilience under oppression, she is speaking for her race and gender in an address of historical and structural oppression of Black Americans. Angelou’s is a “confident voice of strength that recognizes its own power and will no longer be pushed into passivity."1 It’s an attitude of powerful dissent that the works in this exhibition have in common. The title is twice borrowed; from Angelou and from Hannah Brontë, whose work Still I Rise (2016) imagines an Indigenous women of colour parliament in Australia, through a rap music video. The work addresses her question “how do we keep fighting if we can’t envision victory?”2 Brontë’s and the other works in this exhibition have no patience for generalising rhetoric around ‘making change’. Rather each attends to its specific social-political context, and the gestures are direct.
Revisiting Lisa Reihana’s Wog Features (1990) 27 years after it was made, and taking the work as a starting point, this exhibition acknowledges the tone of defiance surfacing again in a series of contemporary works, and sets out to amplify this by bringing these intergenerational voices together. Reihana’s Wog Features was made at a time when identity politics were in the foreground of contemporary art. This was also a time when biculturalism was prominent in political discussions around nationhood in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Representation is reclaimed in these works. Salote Tawale’s videos Sometimes you make me nervous (2012) and Pocari Sweat (2014) draw on essentialising stereotypes, reproducing them as self-portraits in direct confrontation with colonialist representations of ‘the other’.
Working with specific moments in history, including popular culture sources, Esther Ige’s work in photography, installation and video engages with the racism that she identifies is still in the ‘blood stream’ of the system now. She is concerned specifically with the prevalence of racism and racist stereotypes in the media and popular culture and “through symbolic expression, gesture and stance: from declaration, to resistance, to defiance, to protest” her work brings this negative stereotyping up for discussion.3
Leafa Wilson & Olga Krausepresent Unprotected #1: This ain’t no disco, the first in a series of built and inhabited structures that establish protection from the conventions Western art, holding ground in the gallery. Wilson & Krause’s work often takes place in institutional spaces, and is directly responsive to the structural inequities that often exist there, and to the need as artists and curators to find habitable positions ‘within’ such institutional systems.
Skawennati’s TimeTraveller™ (2008-2013) appropriates the forms of virtual reality game Second Life and those of the contemporary museum industry. Set in 2121, TimeTraveller™ offers viewers the opportunity to ‘embody’ the narratives of First Nations history, at the same time as participating in a form of world making that looks to the future.
The works in Still, Like Air, I’ll Rise do not revise history; they just remember it differently and at times set propositions for alternative futures into action.
1. Carol Neubauer ‘Maya Angelou: Self and a Song of Freedom in the Southern Tradition’ Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, Tonette Bond Inge, (ed). (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press,1990), pp. 1–12.
2. Email correspondence with the artist September 2016.
3. Email correspondence with the artist October 2016.
Yuki Kihara: Der Papālagi (The White Man)
24 Feb 2017 - 31 Mar 2017
Yuki Kihara, Der Papālagi at the Fugalei Market, 2016, From the Der Papālagi (The White Man) series, 2016, c-print, printed image 667x1000mm. Courtesy of the artist and Milford Galleries Dunedin, New Zealand.
Erich Scheurmann’s Der Papālagi takes direct inspiration from the ‘enchanting paradise’ of Sāmoa. Scheurmann, a German national, lived in Sāmoa from 1900 until 1914 while the islands were under German administration. Published in 1920 the book contains revelations about European culture as ostensibly made by Tuiavii, a Sāmoan chief who had been taken to Europe as a part of a völkerschaugruppe (a native performance group). However, it was later discovered that these speeches were not actually Tuiavii’s social commentary translated by Scheurmann, but Scheurmann’s thoughts and world-views published under this pseudonym.1
Yuki Kihara’s solo exhibition Der Papālagi (The White Man) in ST PAUL St Gallery Three uses Scheurmann’s text as a spring board for a series of new work. In this work Kihara films and photographs Barbara and Christian Durst, a German couple living in Sāmoa, standing dressed in indigenous Sāmoan regalia in a series of locations across the country’s capital Apia. It is a startling and at times humorous juxtaposition: two European actors dressed in customary regalia reserved for those of the highest ranks and the reactions of the Sāmoan community.
According to Scheurmann the book had two purposes: to protect the Sāmoan community against a destructive European influence, and to reveal how someone who is “still so close to nature”2 sees the European culture. Perhaps he hoped that Tuiavii’s openness and innocence would encourage German readers to return to nature at a time when the Naturalism movement3 was taking form. Kihara’s work in Der Papālagi (The White Man) reveals Scheurmann’s romanticisation of Sāmoan life and culture as a personal desire of Scheurmann to be Sāmoan, dressing up the Dursts as a literalisation of Scheurmann’s own hopes of belonging.
In this new series of work Yuki Kihara breaks down both historic and contemporary forms of escapism confronting these exotic fantasies with the reality of life in Sāmoa. Through this strong statement we are challenged to consider the politics of home, belonging and authenticity.
1. Yuki Kihara, Der Papālagi (the white man) - artist statement, Milford Galleries Dunedin (accessed 17 January, 2017), https://www.milfordgalleries.co.nz/dunedin/submissions/10321-9b5290a9
The work premiered on 18 November 2016 at Cairns Regional Gallery, Queensland.
A native of Samoa, Yuki Kihara is an interdisciplinary artist whose work engages with a variety of social, political and cultural issues. 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; Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, New Caledonia; Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; and Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand among others. Her recent dance production Them and Us (2015) co-directed by Jochen Roller premiered at Sophiensaele Theatre, Berlin and then toured to other European venues, including Kampnagel Center for Finer Arts, Hamburg.
Yuki Kihara received support from Creative New Zealand to make this work. Der Papālagi (The White Man) is courtesy of the artist and Milford Galleries Dunedin, New Zealand. The exhibition is presented in association with Auckland Arts Festival 2017.