Native Portraits n.19897, 1997
Mixed media
Variable dimensions - Waharoa - 367 cm x 356.5 cm x 79.5 cm
Collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Born 1964, Auckland, New Zealand; lives in Auckland, New Zealand

Lisa Reihana primarily works in the medium of video. The artist presents her portraits of Maori in two forms. The waharoa is intended to symbolize the gateway at the entrance to the traditional Maori courtyard and meeting house (marae). The second form is a series of video portraits on monitors, some no larger than actual photographs. For this piece, Reihana sifted through the Museum of New Zealand’s collection of nineteenth-century photo portraits of Maori. Taking these portraits as a starting point, she dressed her Maori friends in old-fashioned and contemporary outfits and recorded them on video as if they were posing for a photographic portrait. These are no longer silent, passive ethnographic exhibits but active, thinking subjects. This work suggests that while Maori may have more opportunities today than they once did, some stereotypes and prejudices remain.

Asia Society chat with the artist:

We call ourselves the indigenous people of New Zealand but in fact the Maori migrated as well so there has always been this sense of travel. And I like that as part of the New Zealand ethic, we travel a lot so a lot of our stories and our mythology are about traveling, going from one place to another in a metaphorical sense as well, moving from one stage of life to another.

The work that is in the show, Native Portraits, has a lot of portraiture in it and is dealing with the moment of post-colonial contact. You can see that in the types of costumes that the models are wearing. There are also a number of different dramas that are part of this work. One of the works is dealing with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which is a key document for maintaining Maori sovereignty, of course a crucial question for us.

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