Digital Marae 2001
- Accession No.
- Date Created
- Dimensions A
Two photographs: 200 x 100 x 0.35cm (each); two photographs: 200 x 120 x 0.35cm (each); one photograph: 140 x 120 x 0.35cm
- Media Category
- Secondary Media Category
Colour cibachrome photographs mounted on aluminium and DVD: 3:30 minutes, colour, sound
- Place Created
- Credit Line
Lisa Reihana was born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1964, and with tribal affiliations to Ngaa Puhi, Ngati Hine and Ngai Tu, she engages and presents Maori culture in a powerful and contemporary manner. Her multimedia works such as Tauira (1991) and Hypergirls (1998, Acc. no. 1999.038) use contemporary sound tracks that blend rhythm with filmic collages of cultural icons and contemporary expressions. Reihana has exhibited internationally in both solo and group shows, including 'APT 2002: Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art'.
Reihana is interested in foundations: building with imaginary blocks or with stacked television monitors she creates works that have the imposing presence of architecture. With Digital Marae, Reihana presents a dramatically charged space built through a series of photographs mounted on aluminium, and a DVD in which the unfolding narrative of Maori mythology is powerfully evoked. Throughout her practice Reihana has engaged and constructed her own virtual 'marae' (meeting place).(1) In this space, Reihana mediates her immediate environment, smoothly blending cultural knowledge and a fast-paced urban lifestyle. In the virtual field of film and photography, technology and lore complement each other; here Reihana merges Vladimir Tretchikov's painted idealised women with poupou (carved figures) to create new representations.(2)
The marae is a sanctuary, a place where people come together to articulate their commonalities and debate their differences. This space is highly structured and functions through complex protocols. Within it, the wharenui (the physical structure) represents the ancestor's body - the central roof beam its backbone, and the rafters its ribs. The poupou that line the sides of the wharenui are individual ancestors. These different architectural components disseminate fundamental genealogical knowledge and create an intense presence from which those affiliated to the meeting house can gain a profound sense of belonging. By creating a virtual marae, Reihana encompasses these qualities and dynamics without being constrained by geographical location and possibly daunting codes of behaviour.
Photographic images of five women constitute an imposing presence in Digital Marae: Mahuika, Hinewai, Hinepukohurangi, Kurangaituku and Marakihau are the poupou of Reihana's marae and are the 'synthesised future vision of whakairo (carving)'.(3)
Each encapsulates a Maori tribal story. Mahuika is tricked by her grandson Maui into giving him all the fire she possesses in her nails. Living in the underworld, her full skirt scorches and steams with hot lava and earth. In the wharenui she would be placed at the far end; she is the anchor point and symbolises tradition. Hinewai, the youngest in the group, represents familial ties in Mahuika's care. At daybreak, Hinewai beckons her sister Hinepukohurangi to leave the worldly realm of desire that she succumbs to nightly with the mortal male, Uenuku. Hinewai's portrait breaks the conventions of the layout in the wharenui by not being presented as a full figure and by being moved from her rightful place near the entrance, which symbolises youth and light. Similarly, Reihana innovates by representing Hinepukohurangi, who had never been visualised in a carved form before. A potentially dangerous rupturing of Maori protocol, the figure was nevertheless well received by the Maori community.(4) With the Kurangaituku image from Digital Marae, Reihana is inspired by the writer Ngahuia Te Awekotuku's retelling of the story of Kurangaituku and another being, Hatupatu. In this version, Hatupatu covets Kurangaituku's beautiful feather cloak, and he kills all her exotic creatures in order to steal it. Reihana represents Kurangaituku in dual emotional states - sadness at seeing all her birds dead, and frustration at her attempt to rip Hatupatu from his hiding place behind a rock face.
A strong component of Reihana's practice is to convey the importance of matriarchy within Maori culture. The individual carvings in the wharenui have, historically, mostly represented male ancestors and with Digital Marae, Reihana was particularly keen to focus on the presence of women. Digital Marae contains many different interpretations of mythological figures; ancestors like Mahuika and Marakihau, for example, have sometimes been described as male and Reihana has made the deliberate choice to represent them as female.(5) Monsters and spirits are referred to as 'taniwha' in the Maori language and in certain parts of New Zealand Marakihau represents these in the wharenui.(6) Let there be light, the accompanying DVD, renders the figures in Digital Marae alive and continues Reihana's interest in communicating through the moving image and performance. Inspired by the work of the Japanese contemporary composer Toru Takemitsu, the soundtrack emanates strange violin and flute sounds that flow through sensual images of flight. Powerful female figures engage the viewer through recognisable tropes such as those of computer video games, the seduction of advertising, the memory of childhood stories and the re-creation of fantasy in films such as The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix.
The themes evoked in Digital Marae, as extravagant as they might be - with gods, demons and fantastical creatures - play out didactic narratives about commonly felt emotions such as pain, revenge, passion and the lure of greed and lust. Reihana reworks traditional lore; she adds, cuts and emphasises particular versions, actively reconstructing history and the messages surrounding it.
1. Page, Maud. 'Interdigitating Reihanamations: Lisa Reihana's video weavings', Art AsiaPacific, no. 21, 1999, pp.40-3.
2. Reihana, Lisa, Email to Maud Page, March 2002. Reproductions of Vladimir Tretchikov's kitsch and highly exoticised painted portraits of Eurasian and Pacific women could be found in Australian department stores in the 1950s and 1960s.
3. Reihana, Lisa, Email to Page. Digital Marae was first presented in the exhibition 'Purangiaho', Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Auckland, New Zealand, 2001.
4. Reihana, Lisa, Email to Page.
5. Thomas. Nicholas. Oceanic Art. Thames & Hudson, London, 1995, p.62.
6. The information on Maori mythology was given to Maud Page by Lisa Reihana and is compiled from various sources, including Orbell, Margaret. A Concise Encyclopedia of Maori Myth and Legend; Frank Cass & Co, 1997, Barrow, Terence. An Illustrated Guide to Maori Art. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1995; and Alpers, Tony. Maori myths and tribal legends. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1966.
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© Lisa Reihana
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