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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

Additional Resources

Rosi, Pamela Sheffield. “About the Artist: Shigeyuki Kihara.” The Contemporary Pacific 19.1 (Spring 2007): vii–vii.

“Shigeyuki Kihara: Living Photographs (October 7, 2008 – February 1, 2009).” In Special Exhibitions. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2008/shigeyuki-kihara.

Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust Web site. http://www.tautai.org.

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

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

In the Western world today, the dichotomy between man and woman, male and female is often taken for granted. In many parts of the world, and, in fact, during other periods in Western history, the two-sex, two-gender model was not the norm.

In Samoa, for example, there traditionally has been an accepted “third gender” category. Originally this group was comprised of biologically born men who lived as women. Today, individuals who identify as third gender, or fa’a fafine, might be gay, lesbian, transgender, or intersex.

Multimedia and performance artist Shigeyuki Kihara was born in Samoa to Samoan and Japanese parents. Kihara’s identification as a Pacific Islander as well as a third gender individual is central to her triptych series Fa’a fafine: In the Manner of a Woman. In these three pieces, Kihara poses herself in scenes based on colonial photographs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Taken by non-native photographers for purposes that ranged from the ethnographic to the pornographic, such images helped to create and fuel many stereotypes about the people of the South Pacific Region, among which was the fantasy of the Belle Sauvage, the beautiful, primitive woman who was simultaneously innocent, eroticized, and available.

In the first of the three images in the triptych, seen here, Kihara poses as this Belle Sauvage, reclining in a grass skirt with her breasts bared to the viewer. The second image shows Kihara in the same pose, only now completely naked. In this photograph, the artist appears to be physically a woman. The final image of the series is identical but for one striking difference—the artist’s penis is revealed, her identity as a fa’a fafine uncovered. By undermining Western assumptions, many of which were adopted by Pacific Islanders during the colonial period, Kihara demands that her audience reconsider their assumptions about history, desire, gender, and the body.

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