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Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Groundbreaking exhibition returns to its Samoan roots

Photo: Paradise Camp exhibition by artist Yuki Kihara in Samoa.
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Gladys Hartson | Senior Journalist

In time for Samoa’s 62nd Anniversary of Independence earlier this month, Artist Yuki Kihara unveiled the work she created for the 59th Venice Biennale in Samoa

She made waves representing New Zealand at the Venice Biennale in 2022 with her groundbreaking exhibition ‘Paradise Camp’ and art lovers were given a taste of the work at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, last year

Now Yuki Kihara’s taken her work ‘home’ and as she explains,“Paradise Camp imagines a Fa’afafine utopia that shatters colonial heteronormativity to make way for an indigenous worldview that is more inclusive and sensitive to the change in nature.”

For Yuki, bringing Paradise Camp home to Samoa and launching it during independence celebrations held important significance to raise awareness that, while Samoa enjoys independence, not all genders have been afforded the same freedom. 

“Sāmoa’s kinship system was based on four genders – Tane, Fafine, Fa’afafine and Fa’atama working together, but colonial systems fractured this – in fact, it banned and exiled Fa’afafine and Fa’atama as a result of New Zealand government’s Crime Ordinance Act of 1961.

“The legacy of New Zealand’s legal discrimination against Fa’afafine and Fa’atama are also compounded by the intersecting forms of violence, discrimination and inequality brought on by climate change triggered by those in the developed world,” says Yuki.

The exhibition, photographed in 2020, features a series of images captured at the Saletoga Sands and Spa Resort which was one of five locations featured in Paradise Camp. 

It involved a local cast of nearly one hundred people photographed on location across Upolu in the villages of Vavau, Amaile, Falevao and Togitogiga Waterfall. It also included images of churches and plantations in the district of Aleipata.  

Yuki describes the “lushness of each photograph” that they blend into the rich foliage of the natural environment, “as if the photographs are in one with nature and adds to a surreal experience”.’ 

The interdisciplinary artist of Samoan and Japanese heritage says, “The touring of my ‘Paradise Camp’ exhibition in Sāmoa in part was my personal plea to the government and the wider community in Sāmoa to reinstate our original gender matrix to rebuild the resilience of the Sāmoan people together, by first acknowledging Fa’afafine and Fa’atama’s invisible labour and contribution they make to their family, extended family, the village, the church, to the country of Sāmoa and across the Diaspora.” 

Paradise Camp exhibition by artist Yuki Kihara in Samoa.

With thousands of people visiting the exhibition in Venice and Sydney and the critical acclaim Paradise Camp has received, described as powerful, super lucious and stunning, it comes as no surprise it has surpassed expectations back home. 

Yuki says the feedback has been amazing.

“Many locals in Sāmoa have flocked to the Saletoga Sands Resort during the weekends to see the exhibition for themselves. 

“I’m particularly grateful that the Fa’afafine and the Fa’atama community have been able to see the exhibition and to have themselves reflected in the ‘Paradise Camp’ photographic series.” 

Paradise Camp also received a strong endorsement from the government of Samoa at its Independence Day launch where the keynote address was delivered by Deputy Prime Minister Tuala Tevaga Iosefo Ponifasio. 

Speakers also included former Prime Minister and Patron of the Samoa Faafafine Association Dr Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi. 

‘Paradise Camp’ is currently on view at the Saletoga Sands Resort and Spa in Upolu Island, Samoa till 31st January 2025. https://paradisecamp.ws  

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