Born 1964 Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand
Lives and works in Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand
Lisa Reihana’s innovative and pioneering practice crosses between performance, photography, installation and moving image, offering a fascinating and nuanced vision of Māori and South Pacific Islander peoples, culture and history. Reihana first came to international attention with her digital animations of the 1990s, and her large-scale photographs combined with video and sound in the early 2000s. These works often reimagined traditional or customary stories from a feminist and contemporary perspective. In her more recent work, Reihana has looked to representations of Pacific people in the arts and decorative arts during the era of European encounters and settlement. Collaborating and consulting with contemporary performers and artists enables her to upturn historical and colonial representations of Māori and Pacific peoples, conveying complex ideas about indigenous identity and bicultural life.
Lisa Reihana’s panoramic video installation in Pursuit of Venus [infected] 2015–17 is based on the French panoramic wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (The Voyages of Captain Cook) c.1804–05, designed by Jean-Gabriel Charvet for the French entrepreneur Joseph Dufour. In creating this early European representation of the peoples of Oceania during first contact, Charvet was inspired by Captain James Cook’s 1769 voyage south to witness the transit of Venus across the sun and the subsequent search for ‘Terra Australis’. From a Polynesian, Māori or Aboriginal point of view, Charvet’s imagery relies more on an Enlightenment-era imagination than truth.
Reihana’s high-definition immersive vision creates a stage for complex cross-cultural encounters, as she turns the tables on the flat, generic green plains of the original wallpaper design that conflated Oceanic locations with European Neoclassicism. The work shows contemporary indigenous performers, community elders and cultural practitioners engaged in culturally specific acts and ceremonies – including dance, storytelling, tattooing and trade – that are both playful and subversive. Meanwhile, actors playing the British seafarers observe, misunderstand and disrupt daily proceedings.
The panoramic nature of Reihana’s multi-screen, surround-sound projection ensures the audience’s point-of-view is that of a tangata whenua (person of the land). This viewpoint ‘infects’ the representations found in these fanciful nineteenth-century wallpaper designs, in effect confining them to the distant past.
Jean-Gabriel Charvet / France 1750–1829 / Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (The native peoples of the Pacific Ocean) 1804–5 / Designed for Joseph Dufour. Purchased 2015 with Charles Disney Art Trust funds / Collection and image courtesy: Te Papa