Top Hat (from Memoranda)
Lisa Reihana is a New Zealand pioneer of media
art, utilising technology to create new ways to
explore Mäori culture.
Reihana graduated from Elam in 1987. Her
practice has encompassed video, animation, storytelling,
sculpture, textiles, performance, sound and
photography, increasingly with a digital emphasis.
In 1997 she created Native Portraits n.19897,
a large gateway comprising 11 video monitors,
commissioned for the opening of Te Papa
Tongarewa and forming the waharoa of her
ongoing Digital Marae project. From these 11
videos, Reihana created five projected dramas
and six granite portraits, which form part of her
Memoranda project, first shown at the Singapore
Art Museum in 2003.
Etched by laser onto granite from video stills
to resemble photographic plates, these portraits
are based on 19th century studio photographs
of Mäori taken by the Burton Brothers, often
using models in inappropriate costume. By using
relatives and friends to recreate these images,
Reihana challenges modes of Western portrayal
and the romantic notion of long-lost civilisations,
replacing it with a dynamic view of a living
culture. From this series, the University last year
purchased Top Hat, 2003, which is now on show
at the George Fraser Gallery as part of Full Circle,
an exhibition of Elam graduate works recently
acquired for The University of Auckland Art
Collection until 29 March.
A suite of six new large-format digital
photographs were added to Reihana’s Digital
Marae for an exhibition last year at the GovettBrewster
Art Gallery, two of which (Maui and
Ranginui) have also been purchased for the
University’s Art Collection. These photographs
are like the carved poupou that line the walls of
a meeting house, representing significant figures
from the artist’s whakapapa, whanau and friends.
The exquisite black-on-black detailing, Reihana
says, acknowledges the influence of senior Mäori
artist Ralph Hotere.
With execution like that of fashion photography,
Reihana works with a team of experts including
models, costume designers, photographers,
makeup artists and hairdressers, crediting them
all in the exhibition much as a movie director
acknowledges the team at the end of a film.
Working in this way, incorporating friends and
helpers both in the work and the production,
Reihana celebrates the idea of a marae as a
vibrant community place where people come
together, as well as side-stepping the traditional
Mäori convention that prevents women from
being carvers. Working with new media, she
is creating a virtual, portable marae that can
occupy new territory in new ways, creating a place
to gather in galleries and even in cyberspace.
She continues to add to the project, progressively
working towards her Virtual Marae 20/20 AD –
a project that will be the culmination of 25 years