Paradise in Venice

Yuki Kihara will unveil Paradise Camp, a new multidisciplinary work, at the 2022 Venice Biennale. This makes her the first Pasifika, Asian, transgender, and fa‘afafine representative New Zealand has sent since it first established a presence at the biennale in 2001.


Two Faʻafafine (After Gauguin) [2020] (detail) from Paradise Camp [2020] series by Yuki Kihara. Image courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand

Fa‘afafine represents a third gender in Samoa: people assigned male at birth but who live faa (in the manner of) fafine (woman). Fa‘afafine occupy a more normalised space in Samoan culture than trans identities in the West, which would be their closest approximation.


Paradise Camp was filmed on Upolu Island, Samoa, with a cast and crew of more than 80 people. Kihara says Paradise Camp evolved from an ongoing interrogation of Paul Gauguin: the exploration of his paintings in person in New York, and an essay delivered by feminist academic Ngahuia Te Awekotuku at a 1992 symposium on Gauguin at the Auckland Art Gallery.


The essay, Gauguin’s Models – A Māori Perspective, describes how his androgynous, exoticised models reveal a fascination with māhū, the Tahitian equivalent of fa‘afafine. Paradise Camp curator Natalie King says the work will explore “stories of invasion and prejudice”, as well as what Kihara calls “Gauguin’s gaze”. This will be the first post-covid Venice Biennale, with the last iteration closing in November 2019.