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'Native portraits', 1994-97

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1999-0007-1/2 Native portraits


This is a multimedia installation combining video and sound by New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana. (For notes on the significance of this resource go to 'metadata record' at the end of this description and see the 'educational value' section). The installation has two major components, a large waharoa, a gateway, made from steel shelving with eleven 71-cm video monitors and two 'old-style' wood and glass museum display cabinets that house six small monitors. One of these cabinets can be seen in the background. The installation shows moving and still images of Reihana's Maori friends and family acting out a series of vignettes that relate to issues of identity and representation. The measurements of the installation are 367.0 cm (h) x 356.5 cm (w) x 79.5 cm. (d)

Source Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Educational value:
  • This asset highlights an artwork, three years in the making, commissioned for the opening of the new Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, in 1998 - the commission reflected Te Papa's intention to tell stories about living people as well as about artefacts while drawing on ideas of history, time, tourism and technology.
  • It highlights the work of a significant contemporary Māori artist of Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Tu (Māori tribes) and European descent - Lisa Reihana (1964-) is part of a generation of Māori artists who trained in art schools in the 1970s and 1980s, including Jacqueline Fraser, Peter Robinson and Michael Parekowhai; Reihana draws on Māori and European influences to create art that has had an impact in New Zealand and overseas.
  • It represents the artist's literal interpretation of the museum's collection of 19th-century studio photographs, such as the Burton Brothers' photographs, and postcards - shown via a huge imagebank of moving and still images that mirror such photographs, Reihana also explores issues of identity and representation using elements of kapa haka (action dance) and traditional European portraiture.
  • It highlights a hugely ambitious and groundbreaking work - using digital installation, which was then a new medium not widely collected or shown by galleries, the work illustrates the artist's intention to explore the ethnographic and museum practices of collecting, cataloguing and encasing objects, cultures and individuals, as well as their photographic representation, particularly tourist imagery and stereotypes.
  • It highlights the use of a traditional Māori waharoa (gateway) with video monitors allowing ancestral carvings to come to life - this gives visitors the notion that they are standing outside a meeting house gate before being allowed to walk through onto the marae, or sacred meeting area, which in this case is reinforced by the image of a Māori with a Stop/Go sign that is used like a taiaha (long club).
  • It illustrates Reihana's use of role-play, narrative and portraiture in her work - this is demonstrated by the adaptation of 19th-century glass cases from the Māori hall in the old Dominion Museum to house the video monitors and present viewers with moving images as opposed to dead objects with cardboard labels describing the exhibit.
  • It represents a piece of contemporary New Zealand art that has been successfully exhibited in Australia, the USA, Germany and France.

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