Yuki Kihara: on living and making art in Sāmoa — 11.09.18

Interdisciplinary artist Yuki Kihara spends half of the year living in Sāmoa, and the rest of the time wherever her art practice takes her. We asked her what a typical week looks like...and she gave us a fascinating insight into the challenges of navigating power outages, juggling projects, travelling and the joy of working with family and friends.

I’m always juggling between 12 to 15 projects at any given time and they all range in different stages of production. At the moment I’m currently negotiating the itinerary for my research fellowship hosted by the National Museum of World Cultures in the Netherlands; Oceania exhibition presented at the Royal Academy of Arts in London; and the Bangkok Art Biennale in Thailand all happening within the span of 2 months between September and October this year. People think traveling is glamourous but personally I find it quite an exhausting task. Early this year, I guest lectured at the RAW Material Company in Dakar Senegal which I travelled over from Sāmoa for. Luckily, I was able to do a stopover in Auckland to break-up the trip, but it was still a grueling 38-hours in economy seating, flying from Auckland to Dakar. But once I arrived in Dakar, I was taken care of by the hosts while meeting people from all over the world working on projects in partnership with RAW. I also attended the opening for the Dakar Biennale seeing all the vibrant and sophisticated contemporary African art.

In addition, I’m currently working on the layout for the upcoming publication entitled Samoan Queer Lives co-edited between myself and New York-based Samoan American artist and writer Dan Taulapapa McMullin, and published by Little Island Press in Auckland (due to be released in October to meet the Christmas season); and editing my new video work entitled First Impressions: Paul Gauguin presented at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco opening in November this year. I’m now working towards major projects in Canada and Germany that will be presented in 2021. Planning 3 years in advance used to be mindboggling for me over a decade ago, but I’m now used to working ahead of time to allow the project to build momentum over time and targeting funding deadlines necessary for the project. I’m constantly working towards deadlines with projects from all over the word (literally), but thankfully I have a NZ gallerist that helps with a lot of the administration and negotiations which takes a lot of weight off my back.

On average, I spend 6 months in Sāmoa and 6 months wherever I need to be. I try and avoid travelling to places especially during winter time. Moving out of Aotearoa to base myself from Sāmoa in 2011 was the best decision I’ve made in my life, but it came at a cost. I first arrived as a teenager to Aotearoa from Sāmoa around the late 1980’s and began working as an artist in 1996. The reason behind moving back to Sāmoa was primarily to reconnect with my family and extended family. At first, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it work given that majority of my work was outside of Sāmoa; and Sāmoa had limited resources from what I was used to when I was based in Aotearoa.

During my time in Sāmoa, I’ve witnessed several tropical cyclones such as the recent Cyclone Gita run rampage across the Island destroying people’s livelihoods and properties. In the aftermath of the cyclone my family and I lived without water and power for days. We eventually moved into a motel so that we could have a proper shower, recharge our phones and connect online to reach family and friends until everything was back to normal. While Sāmoa has recovered since Cyclone Gita, we continue to have water and power outage (either one or the other or both at the same time!) periodically, which can often last from an hour if not the whole day. The damages caused to local infrastructure due to the cyclone can have a long-term impact. And despite new internet cables recently being installed in Sāmoa, the internet access is also an on-going issue which is the primary source for me to connect with the rest of the world. These are just some of the realities living in a Pacific Island at the frontline of climate change. Another challenge I faced with moving back to Sāmoa was that the audience for my work was expanding to include those who were born and raised in Sāmoa and speaking Samoan as their first language like many in my family. So, these sets of challenges have forced me to think outside the box to develop projects that would utilize the resources available in Sāmoa while resonating with the local audience in the Island and if lucky, have universal appeal.

So I guess you could say that First Impressions: Paul Gauguin which I recently wrote and directed came as a result of it. First Impressions: Paul Gauguin commissioned by the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen is a bilingual, 5-part episodic talk show series filmed in Upolu Island which captures candid responses of a panel of members of Sāmoa’s fa’afafine community to select paintings by famed French artist Paul Gauguin. The filming involved employing over 27 people in the production crew, many of whom have never stepped foot on a film set before. Some members of the film crew were members of my family, including my cousins working as carpenters, my aunty as a production driver, and even my mum as caterer to name a few. The filming of First Impressions: Paul Gauguin was a real family affair, achieving many of things I first dreamed about when I first set my eyes on returning back to Sāmoa. I’m currently working towards screening each episode of First Impressions: Paul Gauguin weekly on local TV in Sāmoa. 

To watch the teaser for First Impressions: Paul Gauguin (2018) by Yuki Kihara visit: https://vimeo.com/284486148

‘First Impressions: Paul Gauguin’(2018) by Yuki Kihara; Still; HD video; 16:9; 13min duration; 5-part episodic talk-show series.  Commissioned by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen and Milford Galleries Dunedin, Aotearoa New Zealand. 


A native of Sāmoa, Yuki Kihara is an interdisciplinary artist whose work engages with a variety of social, political, and cultural issues. Her interdisciplinary approach seeks to challenge dominant and singular historical narratives through visual arts, dance, and curatorial practice, engaging with Pacific colonial history and representation as they intersect with race, gender, spirituality, and sexual politics.

In 2012, Kihara was the recipient of the New Generation Award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand and subsequently awarded the Paramount Award Winner of the 21st Annual Wallace Art Awards in the same year.Kihara is currently a research fellow at the National Museum of World Cultures in the Netherlands. Her work was recently acquired by the British Museum. 

Yuki Kihara is currently represented by Milford Galleries Dunedin.  She lives and works in Sāmoa.