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Pacific perspective on queer indigeneity

Pacific perspective on queer indigeneity

  • 25 Aug 2019
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Whenever Artist and Curator Yuki Kihara came across reading material or artwork about Queer Indigeneity in the Pacific, it was always from a Western perspective. 

“It has been typically from Western documentary film makers, anthropologists and travel writers in search of fa’afafine with a ‘primitive’ gender and sexuality, living close to ‘nature’, as measured against the ‘civilised’ Western cisgender heteronormative patriarchy,” Yuki says. 

This was the point, Yuki says she realised there was a need to put together a book to tell stories from a Pacific view - Samoan stories, written and edited by fa’afafine for fa’afafine audiences. 

“With this in mind, I approached artist and writer Dan Taulapapa McMullin, a New York-based Samoan and fa’afafine to co-edit Samoan Queer Lives with me.” 

Originally from American Sāmoa, Yuki works as an interdisciplinary Artist and Curator on Upolu Island in Sāmoa where she has lived for the last decade after relocating from Auckland.    

She has had a vastly varied career, working across visual arts, dance and as a curator/producer, on national and international projects.   

Growing up, Yuki always knew she wanted to be involved in the arts, but her parents were not so eager for her to take that career path, so she trained as a Fashion Designer and graduated from Massey University with a Bachelor of Fashion Design and Technology in 1996. 

“However, I was never fond of the fashion industry so I became a full-time practicing artist in 2000 and have never looked back.” 

In 2008, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York presented a solo exhibition of Yuki’s work Living Photographs, featuring highlights of her interdisciplinary art practice, followed by an acquisition of her works by the museum for their permanent collection. 

Yuki’s work can also be found in the collections, among others, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the British Museum and Giorgio Armani to name a few. Yuki is currently a research fellow at The National Museums of World Cultures in The Netherlands, a position she has held since 2017. 

Samoan Queer Lives, which was officially launched in Sāmoa late last year, in partnership with the New Zealand High Commission in Apia, has been a labour of love for Yuki and Dan. 

It has been 11 years in the making because contributors were based in various different countries; and going through different stages in their lives, Yuki explains. 

“Over the course of working on this publication, four of our friends and contributors to this publication passed away and will not have the chance to see this publication to fruition. 

“Our thoughts are with them and their loved ones.”

There are total of 14 chapters in the book, each written by a member of the Samoan Fa’afafine LGBTIQ community based in Sāmoa, the United States Territory of American Sāmoa, Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, the Kingdom of Hawai`i, and Turtle Island–USA.

Each life history chapter in the book is accompanied by a portrait selected from the participants’ personal collection.

In the process of recording and editing these histories, Samoan communal social practice of tala, history and talanoaga or conversation has been incorporated.

“We aim to examine how history and the subject are defined from a contemporary Samoan perspective in the experience of fa`afafine living in Sāmoa and the diaspora,” Yuki adds.

She says the main goal of the entire project has been to evoke compassion and understanding of the diverse experiences of Samoan fa’afafine. 

“I’ve been told by many non-fa’afafine of how much they have in common with some of the chapters featured in Samoan Queer Lives. 

“I think it’s because each chapter is so specific, it enables the readers from all backgrounds to find something universal in it.”

Since the launch in Sāmoa last year, there has been subsequent launch in Auckland, Wellington and also San Francisco and on September 12, Yuki will attend a launch of the book at Tūranga, in Christchurch.

“The late Memea Eleitino Ma`aelopa NZOM, who is the pillar of the Pacific community in Christchurch is one of the contributors of Samoan Queer Lives, so I thought having the book launch in Christchurch would be a fitting tribute in his honour. 

“It also acknowledges his contribution to the Pacific community and Samoa as a whole, with the support of his niece and next-of-kin Lana Fa’i.” 

All proceeds from Samoan Queer Lives goes to support fa’afafine organisations in Sāmoa and American Sāmoa.