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13 / The Body

Fa’a fafine: In a Manner of a Woman, Triptych 1
Fa’a fafine: In a Manner of a Woman, Triptych 1
Artist / Origin Shigeyuki Kihara (Japanese-Samoan, b. 1975)
Region: Oceania
Date 2004–2005
Material Chromogenic print on “Fujicolor Professional Paper”
Dimensions H: 23 5/8 in. (60 cm.), W: 31 1/2 in. (80 cm)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Stephanie H. Bernheim Gifts, and the artist/Photo by Sean Coyle

expert perspective

Anne D’AllevaAssociate Professor of Art History, University of Connecticut
Shigeyuki KiharaArtist

Fa’a fafine: In a Manner of a Woman, Triptych 1

» Shigeyuki Kihara (Japanese-Samoan, b. 1975)

expert perspective

The fa’a fafine community in Samoa is generally an accepted group of people in Samoan society. But once when Colonialism came to Samoa and started sort of imposing us with their binary understanding of gender, race, and sexuality, we were encouraged to look either one or the other. Now, one of the reasons why I made these works is because much of the Pacific has been personified by the exotic Polynesian femininity. For me the idea of beauty and harmony in the Pacific, and specifically to Samoa, is embedded in the combination between male and female energy. Much of the post-Colonial dialogue today has been discussed amongst heterosexual people—and gays as well—but there hasn’t been much contribution from people like myself that are in this third gender category. I felt a responsibility that in order for me to, like, really make a statement, I would have to go this far. It’s one of the most hard things that I’ve ever done. But for me, the encounter with Colonialism is so intense that in order to bring my game, I have to be that intense to counteract those measures. One of the reasons that it was hard for me is because the transgender body is not necessarily one that is seen in the mainstream.

When I exhibited this series of work I aimed to first of all exhibit these series to Pacific Island people and specifically Samoan people as well. Because the idea of homophobia and transphobia that came with the arrival of the missionaries is a post-contact phenomenon. And I’m not only trying to educate the West but I’m also trying to educate the people in my own community as well. And these works have also been exhibited with exhibitions with a grass roots focus, with involvement of the Pacific Island community as well.

Now that I see my Fa’a fafine works being bought and hung on display at the Metropolitan Museum, what it is doing is that it’s surfacing grass roots voices that are being marginalized in a mainstream space.” 

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