Native Portraits n.19897 takes its inspiration from the 19th Century craze of ‘cartes de visite’ photography and the postcard industry, in which Māori were a popular subject. The work consists of video portraits and several short dramas staged in nineteenth-century photographic studios. The dramas examine the postcard and photographic genres of the time, including stereotypes of the ‘Māori belle’ and the ‘noble warrior’. The videos are based on historical portraits of significant individuals, Nga Puhi Chieftaness Pare Ngahako, the famous Rotorua Guide Rangi and Kai Tahu Paramount Chief Te Matenga Taiaroa. Set just minutes before the portrait is taken, the dramas subtly reveal ways photography has impacted on Māori life and the politics of ‘image taking’, which are as relevant today as when originally taken. By re-framing historic photographs, Reihana questions our assumptions around the politics of image making and taking. The works resist beliefs of Māori culture as primitive and static.
Native Portraits n.19897 was commissioned for the 1998 opening of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. It was one of several installations created for an exhibition that aimed to humanise Te Papas’ collection by presenting the faces of makers when inanimate artefacts had previously been prioritised. The work’s title makes reference to museological practise in its inclusion of an accession number.
It is made up of two major components: a large waharoa (gateway) made from stacked video monitors, and 'old style' museum cabinets and smaller monitors.