Shigeyuki Kihara is a multimedia and performance artist of Samoan and Japanese descent. Her work is based on research of Indigenous cultures of the Pacific, and explores Samoan culture, history and spirituality. Often inhabiting both male and female roles in her work, Kihara interrogates Western systems of classification and explores notions of body and gender. Earlier this year, a major survey exhibition of Kihara’s work was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Peril: As a multimedia and performance artist, how is your work informed by your formal training in fashion design?
“To me the global fashion industry is one of many imperial forces that is driven by, catered for and to benefit the First World though the exploitation of Third World resources. I also have an interest with how fashion and customary Indigenous regalia is translated and mistranslated when these two distinctive forms, functions and meanings come together.
Black Sunday (2002) features ethnographic images of Pacific Islanders adorned in modern consumer goods. A lot of the work I make is research driven and many of my past works continue to inform, lead and evolve conceptually.”
Peril: I feel your work has strong ties to notions of fashion, culture and identity. I am reminded of your first exhibition of 26 laser printed t-shirts, which replaced well-known corporate logos with local indigenous take-offs. Could you talk a little more about this series?
“The title of the work is Teuanoa’i; Adorn to Excess. They feature logos from common household goods found in Pacific Island homes, where they have become icons in the community. The reappropriated logos subvert the system of power, which governs the lives of Indigenous peoples today. The work also reflect the pride, angst and frustration amongst Pacific island youth living in an urban environment, which is what I was when I first started making them back in 1996.”
Peril: I am also fascinated by the element of performance and role-play in your work, which reminds me of Cindy Sherman and Yasumasa Morimura. In Vavau: Tales from Ancient Samoa, you take on personas drawn from Samoan mythology. I am intrigued how this work uses mimicry to inhabit the old ‘velvet paintings’, which were fashionable at the time, to critique the European representation of Pacific peoples. Can you talk a little bit more about this work?
“As an artist, a Samoan and a Fa’a fafine (‘Samoan of Third experience’) my daily existence questions a wide range of Western classifications that people base a major part of their lives on, that shape their cognitive systems and worldview.
The work I create is specific to my experience as a Pacific Islander today. While Cindy Sherman and Yasumasa Morimura play with cross dressing in the studio to create a range of images, once they walk out of the camera and the studio, their cross dressing stops. While I do similar things as Cindy Sherman and Yasumasa Morimura in producing these images, once I step out of the camera and the studio, the general public continue to assume that I am still cross dressing, where people like me can cause havoc to the point of getting physically attacked, especially by those who feel their whole existence and worldview has been undermined and threatened.”
Peril: What are you working on in the future?
“I have been officially invited to showcase a new body of work and performances to be held in November 2009 at the Campbelltown Arts Centre in Sydney. Part of a multidisciplinary project called What I Think About When I Think About Dancing?, the project broadly investigates the intersections between contemporary dance and visual art, film and community engagement and will bring together artists and choreographers from Australia and internationally. The exhibition opens 27 November 2009 and continues until 3 January 2010.”