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Unnerved: Lisa Reihana

Lisa Reihana - MahuikaTuesday, 11 January 2011

Unnerved: Lisa Reihana

Among the works in the Unnerved exhibition that left the most indelible impression or me are Lisa Reihana’s (1964-) photographs from Digital Marae series. The works display a photographic excellence in the area of digital photography, and present a combination of strong character studies of her sitters and models, which are at the same time composite portraits of cultural proto- and stereotypes.

The title of the series refers to marae, meeting houses that are central to Maori community life. The installation of the photographs in a separate, almost enclosed space creates a secluded setting and a temple-like atmosphere for the contemplation of these images.

Lisa Reihana - MauiParalleling mythological traditions of other cultures, Maori ancestral deities do not occupy a definite time space and do not possess a fixed gender. Therefore, Reihana’s images of over-life-size figures represent a visual collision of historical narratives and contemporary reality, and feature iconographic signifiers of indigenous and colonial-cum-western societies. Traditional tools, elements of dress and body tattoos are placed side by side with a Le Corbusier chair, contemporary surf-board, or a historically-accurate eighteenth-Century costume.

Lisa Reihana, 'Dandy' from Digital Marae, 2007Among the most striking works in this installation are the portrait of an elderly personage in Mahuika (2001), which is taken from a low view-point, emphasizing the pathos of the image and elevating its subject physically and psychologically above the viewer; the equally monumental Maui (2007), where the powerful figure of the mythical ancestral deity is placed at the point of psychological invasion of the viewer’s space; and the unforgettable and iconic Dandy (2007), used for the cover of the exhibition catalogue, where the relief Jacquard embroideries of the model’s costume echo the traditional tattoo designs on his face.

In a similar vein to the works of other artists in this exhibition, Lisa Reihana explores New Zealand’s historically and mythologically rich cultural traditions, probes her country’s post-colonial identity, and creates new iconography for the culturally-diverse society of today.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

January 2011
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