Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Bite 60: Shigeyuki Kihara - My Samoan Girl, 2004-5

My Samoan Girl, 2004-5

In a similar vein to the Fa'afafine work, My Samoan Girl also utilises a mimicry of traditional studio portraiture of the late 19th century. 

Colonial portraiture came in many forms but one ongoing theme in the representation of the exotic female was one of ownership. As the historian Anne Maxwell points out “[s]uch images endowed indigenous peoples with the romantic characteristics associated with renewal, while portraying them as children in need of tutelage and protection.” This ‘Samoan girl’ then is presented just as Kihara’s ancestors would have been: objectified, sexual, passive, obedient, in need of direction and protection and thus ownership. 

The way that her arms are held up makes it clear that she is being asked to do this by the photographer. Her comfort is not taken into consideration and her identity is not what is being photographed. She is merely an exotic artefact holding another exotic artefact. The surrounding plants heighten the feeling of the exotic expected in such images. “That mainstream culture has periodically expressed desire for subaltern art has never obligated anyone to deal with subaltern peoples as human beings, compatriots, or artists. That is, perhaps, until now,” writes post-colonial theorist Coco Fusco. 

The colonial assumes her need for ownership. But for now her image will do; for is not photography another form of ownership? – a simulation of possession – a way to have your ‘Samoan girl’ in your pocket for whenever needed. In contrast to her stance in the triptych, in My Samoan Girl Kihara portrays a girl vulnerable and passive; looking slightly off to the left one imagines that she is picturing her island paradise, or perhaps her long-lost colonial lover.

A. Maxwell, Colonial Photography and Exhibition (Leicester: Leicester University, 2000), 165.
C. Fusco, English is Broken Here (New York: New Press, 1995), 28.