In Digital Marae, one of her major ongoing projects inaugurated in 1995, Lisa Reihana explores Māori ancestral figures traditionally found on the marae, the central site of any traditional Maori community life where people congregate to discuss and debate local affairs and conduct ceremonies. The marae is imbued with strong customs and sense of place. Reihana’s life-size photographs are a contemporary take on pouwhenua, the wooden carvings found lining the interior of the wharenui or meeting house.
With the lyricism of magic realism, Reihana’s digital photographs seamlessly fuse traditional and contemporary motifs and offer new representations of Māori ancestral figures that convey the complex narratives of Māori mythology to make it accessible to global audiences. Furthermore, by incorporating varied identities Reihana’s Digital Marae echoes the desire for an inclusive contemporary marae that would interpret mythology and re-examine Maori identity itself. The photographs Dandy, Hinepukohurangi, Maui and Marakihau, all produced in 2007, reflect a significant moment in the development of Reihana’s Digital Marae, with the inclusion of male and takatāpui — a devoted partner of the same sex — and cross-gendered figures, expanding on her existing repertoire of arrestingly beautiful female forms.
The play of colour, texture, movement, costumes and props confer a distinctive character and feeling to each subject and the worlds they inhabit. The glossy finish of the digital print mounted in aluminium mimics their highly polished surfaces. Reihana sees these figures as sculptures, as physical photographic carvings representing the ancestors formally carved in pounamu and wood.
Govett Brewster Gallery
Digital Marae has been featured in a number of group exhibitions in Aotearoa and around the world, including ethKnowcentrix, a group show of contemporary Pacific art that was on display in London in 2009 and the Asia Pacific Triennial in 2002.
In 2007, Mahuika, from the Digital Marae series, was featured in Global Feminisms, an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. In this video, Lisa discusses the work in the context of the series and her wider practice.