Biennale of Sydney

Lisa Reihana

Lisa Reihana, Nomads of the Sea, 2019 (video still) 3-channel 3D-UHD video installation. Lisa Reihana 'at the wheel'

Lisa Reihana

Born 1964 in Auckland, Aotearoa / New Zealand
Lives and works in Auckland
Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Tū


Lisa Reihana is a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice spans film, sculpture, costume, body adornment and photography. Since the 1990s she has significantly influenced the development of contemporary art and contemporary Māori art in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Her art making is driven by a powerful connection to community, which informs her collaborative working method described as kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face). Influenced by Indigenous filmmaking, her technically ambitious and poetically nuanced work disrupts gender, time, power, and representational norms.

Through reimagined narratives based in factual research and primary source material, Lisa Reihana examines the culture and history of Māori and South Pacific Islander peoples. She employs performance, photography and installation as well as video and animation, which are often combined in works to create rich cinematic tableaus. Her recent projects have depicted historical narratives of colonial encounters in the South Pacific as a continuum of entanglements between European and Indigenous peoples that continue to this day. Reihana’s immersive  installation Nomads of the Sea (2018) weaves historical fact with fiction to explore the social tension between cultural leadership, spiritual custom and egotistical desire in the face of foreign political challenge in 1800’s New Zealand. Through Storyteller – a mythical figure who slips between masculine and feminine voices – the viewer learns of Charlotte Badger, a pakeha (Western) female mutineer, and Puhi, a proud woman of Ngā Puhi descent who becomes jealous of Charlotte’s rising status. In the early days of colonisation, when intermarriage, trading and the procurement of muskets were seen as essential to Māori survival, Māori Chief Huri Waka welcomes the fugitive Charlotte into the tribal homelands under his protection, thereby upsetting the traditional role of women in Aotearoa as the matriarchs, owners of property and spiritual custodians. Charlotte’s presence not only introduces the concept of material wealth and the spoils of England into these communities, but also draws parallels between the worth of foreign women and the musket. As a Pakeha Māori – Europeans adopted and co-opted by the Māori – she is used to increase prowess, gain strategic ability and ultimately counteract the spread of Western power. He wai ngunguru, the installation’s centrepiece, explores these cultural circumstances for women, contrasting European law with Māori culture and morality. Who is the first daughter of Aotearoa? Where does her descent lie?

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