Velvet Dreams brings together works from two early bodies of work by Shigeyuki Kihara, including Faleaitu: House of Spirits (2003) and Vavau: Tales of Ancient Samoa (2004). Both series saw Kihara examining Samoan legend and mythology from within, deconstructing the frameworks of cultural identity, spirituality, and narrative traditions. The title “Velvet Dreams” is drawn from a feature documentary directed by New Zealand film maker Sima Urale which pays homage to images of the ‘dusky maiden’ and explores the ‘low art’ of velvet painting. (1)
Sina ma Tuna/Sina and Her Eel tells the story of Sina and her lover, Tuna, who visits her in the guise of an eel. After Tuna’s death at the hands of Sina’s brothers, she cuts off and buries his head, from which the first coconut tree grows. In this work, Sina/Kihara is framed not only by the hibiscus flowers in her hair, but by the dead eel and its blood running down her arm: ‘paradise’ is not the idyll it seems. The props used serve multiple purposes, working on one level as metaphor and on another as contextual markers to draw attention to the narrative threads of each work. As compositional elements, they combine with the dramatic lighting, black background and colour contrasts to recall the aesthetic of the velvet paintings they critique.
“These images reclaim the erotic gaze of the voluptuous ‘dusky maiden’ genre of velvet paintings, made famous in New Zealand by Charles McPhee and other painters in the 1950s and 1960s.” (2)
The characters Kihara plays adopt the “alluring and seductive style of the island maiden” but she reclaims “the characteristic languid sexuality, passivity and availability of the romantic island subject” (3). By placing herself ‘in the picture’, she re-creates the characters of legend in her own image, controlling the representation and the focus.
1. Shigeyuki Kihara, Artist Statement, August 2014.
2. Pamela Rosi, “Shigeyuki Kihara: Subverting Dusky Maidens and Exotic Tropes of Pacific Paradise”, Art Asia Pacific, Winter 06, Issue 51, p72.
3. Shigeyuki Kihara, Artist Statement, August 2014.