samoa / japan (born 1975)

In old Samoa, ’faleaitu’ (house of spirits) was theatre performed by men presenting political satire in skits in front of the chiefs. The men of ’faleaitu’ were respected as entertainers and simultaneously served as social commentators to the wider community.

It is the ancient practice of ’faleaitu’ which led me to create my recent body of work entitled ’Fa’a fafine; in a manner of a woman’ 2005, a series of photographic self portraits where I disguise myself to portray a Samoan man, a woman, and a married couple. These works pay homage to my ancestors and to simultaneously subvert the dominant western heterosexual ‘normalcy’ that continues to conflict with the existence of fa’afafine people today.

Shigeyuki Kihara
 Ulugali’i Samoa; Samoan Couple
 2004-2005
 c-type photograph
 collection of the artist
 courtesy of Sherman Galleries

Shigeyuki Kihara’s double portrait of a married couple complicates all our expectations of human gender. Here, the artist shows herself as a man and as a woman, in the role of a married couple.

The traditional wedding photograph has become transformed into a visual exploration of sexuality and the nature of male to female relationships. She proves that ambiguity can fundamentally complicate all our notions of gender and role.
  Tama Samoa; Samoan Man
  Teine Samoa; Samoan Woman
  2004-2005

 c-type photographs
 collection of the artist
 courtesy of Sherman Galleries

The artist often uses autobiography as the subject of her art. These portraits, of the artist as a man and as a woman, ask questions about whether we can be two sexes in the one person.

Kihara’s understanding of the history of Pacific portraits is extensive and she comments on the ways in which 19th century photographers staged their portraits in a formal, studio-based situation.