Lisa Reihana, artist, APT9

I’m often attempting to translate my heritage into the space of now. It’s important for me to create images where people are strong and powerful ...

Lisa Reihana doesn’t shy away from a challenge. The contemporary Maori and British artist has spent ten years (and a lot of her own money) creating in Pursuit of Venus, an ambitious immersive artwork that reanimates the story of Captain Cook and first contact. This ‘digital wallpaper’ turns a traditional colonisation story on its head, reimagining Cook’s pre-colonisation encounters in the Pacific. A painted Tahitian landscape combines with re-enactments by performers and actors of Polynesian, Maori and Aboriginal First Nations descent. It’s the sort of thing that has to be seen to be believed. Brisbane is finally getting a chance to catch a glimpse of this groundbreaking work – the multi-dimensional installation has come to QAGOMA as part of the The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. We caught up with Lisa to chat about decolonising the mind, strong women of the world and exploring creative mediums.

Take us back to the beginning of your artistic journey!  What is the earliest memory that you have of creating art?
I remember drawing at primary school when I mixed three different crayons, I created an amazing colour and texture – the alchemy and aesthetics startled me. I also spent a lot of time in theatres watching my mum perform from backstage. I loved watching magic happen, and the audience watching.

What themes and concepts proved to be fertile creatively at the start of your practice?
Being both Maori and British and an urban contemporary, I’m often attempting to translate my heritage into the space of now. And it’s important for me to create images where people are strong and powerful. 

You’ve produced work in different media, including performance, photography, installation and moving image. What is the biggest benefit about being able to work across a range of artistic disciplines?
It’s a wonderful challenge to work across mediums – I get to work with so many other talented people – and I’m the ultimate control freak. Having a knowledge of all these possibilities means I can dream big.

You’re one of many talented artists participating in The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at GOMA. What can you tell us about your contribution to the exhibition and its conceptual direction?
in Pursuit of Venus [infected] is a major work that examines the moments of first contact between indigenous nations and Western explorers. They take place on the foreshore. This version of the work was shown at Venice Biennale and includes members of the Dharawal community.

What was it about Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique that inspired you to reimagine it as a base for in Pursuit of Venus [infected]?
Although the wallpaper was a technical marvel of the time, it was made during enlightenment times and the age of empire. I felt this gave me license to speak back to that moment using videography tools of today. More importantly, this work gives agency back to indigenous people – living descendants and embodiments of those ancestors originally shown in Les Sauvage.

in Pursuit of Venus [infected] takes historical representations and imbues them with narratives and imagery aimed to challenge contemporary stereotypes. How do you go about subverting images to convey your message with the biggest possible impact?
It’s a question of decolonising the mind and the screen – I aim to be ethical both within the screen world and outside it. Hopefully this integrity shows through. Time travelling allows the audience to see how it may have been and imagine how they may have felt. And there’s a sense of sharing this discovery with others in the space.

What do you hope your work communicates to audiences about ownership, privilege, history, harmony and culture?
We are all implicated in our colonial history, and this has left so many communities and people in terrible conditions. I hope in Pursuit of Venus [infected] inspires understanding and our humanitarian qualities.

Finally, what are you currently finding inspiring about the world around you?
I’m thrilled that we have many strong women in positions of power in Aotearoa. I’m also inspired by people who think big, and the possibilities of technology.

You can see Lisa’s amazing in Pursuit of Venus [infected] at the The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at GOMA until April 28, 2019.

 Photo credit: Kallan MacLeod


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