On 18 November 2016, the Cairns Regional Gallery, Queensland, Australia is presenting Yuki Kihara’s new body of work entitled ‘Der Papālagi (The White Man)’. Yuki Kihara is an Interdisciplinary artist whose work engages in a variety of social, political and cultural issues. Often referencing Pacific history, her work explores the varying relationships between gender, race, culture and politics.
The title of this new series comes from a book written by Erich Scheurmann, a German national who lived in Samoa during the German colonial administration of the country (1900 – 1914). Published in 1920, it contains descriptions of European life seen through the eyes of Tuiavii, a Samoan chief. The book was widely criticised however, after it was discovered that Scheurmann had created the character of Tuiavii and that the descriptions were in fact his own social commentary.
Papālagi is used to describe non-Samoans, or anything considered not indigenous to Samoa or Samoan culture. Kihara’s Der Papālagi (The White Man) series is a response to Scheurmann’s book and features a public performance presented as a social experiment in which Christian and Barbara Durst – German migrants who have lived in Samoa for over 24 years – “go native”. Dressed in full indigenous Samoan regalia, they make public appearances in five locations in and around the capital city of Apia. The varied reactions of the public to the German couple are captured in video and photograph and are reminiscent of The Couple in a Cage (1992-1993) by performance artists Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco, in which the artists present themselves in a cage as “undiscovered” Amerindians to unsuspecting US audiences. In Kihara’s work it is the Papālagi who are the Other, subject to the Samoan gaze. The series raises questions around Samoan nationalism and the politics of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ while exploring the ethical boundaries between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation.
In addition to her solo exhibitions presented at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Art Gallery in Auckland and the Orange County Museum of Art in California this year Yuki Kihara will be participating in the upcoming Honolulu Biennial in March 2017, curated by Fumio Nanjo, Director of the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.
‘Der Papālagi (The White Man)’ project received support from the Creative New Zealand Arts Council and the Gallery is the first Australian venue to exhibit.
IMAGE: Yuki Kihara, Der Papālagi at the Fugalei Market 2016 From the Der Papālagi (The White Man) series 2016, c-print, printed image 667 x 1000 mm, Courtesy of the artist and Milford Galleries Dunedin, New Zealand.