Cultural Identity Ideas In The Artwork Of Lisa Reihana: [Essay Example], 836 words GradesFixer
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Cultural Identity Ideas in the Artwork of Lisa Reihana

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Cultural identity is important in today’s society not only because it provides a sense of belonging but also because it defines who we are as people within the community. New Zealand artist, Lisa Reihana showcases the theme of cultural identity through her artwork and provides visual representations of the history of Polynesian people. She holds a significant role within the development of Māori contemporary art/artist and challenges stigmatic stereotypes of Polynesian culture. Firstly, this paper will signify the artistic career of Lisa Reihana and her most prestigious exhibition of In pursuit of Venus [infected]. The following information will then elaborate on the ideas of culture and identity. Lastly, this essay will discuss how the theme of cultural identity is showcased within this artwork and how this is important within the world of today.

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Lisa Reihana is a New Zealand artist of Maori descent, she was born in Blockhouse Bay, Auckland, in the year, 1964. Her cultural tribes are Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine and Ngāi Tū, she also holds strong connections to the far north of New Zealand through her father Huri Waka Reihana. In the year, 1987 Lisa Reihana graduated from Elam School of Fine Arts with successful completion of a degree in The Bachelor of Fine Arts, University of Auckland. As her career developed she was nationally and internationally recognised because of her efforts to highlight the significance of Polynesian identity, this was evidently shown through her artwork. Arguably, her successes are greatly credited to the 32 minute long, 26 meter-panoramic video exhibition of In pursuit of Venus infected which was inspired by Joseph Dufour and his creation of the scenic wallpaper, Les Sauvages de la mer Pacifique. This particular wallpaper depicts the lives of Pacific people prior to the 1800’s and also showcases a rather controversial perspective to cultural identity. Lisa Reihana intended to distinguish stereotypes and Polynesian culture representations that were perceived prior to the 1800’s. Through her video exhibition she was also able to showcase a somewhat true visualisation of the first encounters between Polynesian people and Europeans. Lisa Reihana’s video installation is acknowledged globally by an extended audience. In 2017, her artwork was showcased at one of the world’s most prestigious art galleries, The Venice Biennale in Venice, there she was able to honourably represent contemporary art and artist within New Zealand.


Cultural identity is defined as set traditions, languages and beliefs that uphold the integrity of a community. According to the Ministry of Social Development, cultural identity is vital to an individual’s overall wellbeing. Strong associations with cultural groups and practices enables people to obtain a sense of belonging, security and purpose. There are firm connections between cultural identity and overall well-being that suggest that there are many positive outcomes of being culturally involved, such as an improvement in health, social development and education. However, culture and identity are significant issues within today’s society, this applies to Māori and Polynesian people in particular as the prosperity of indigenous languages and practices are declining.

In a graph census that was conducted by Statistics New Zealand (2013) there was a visible decrease in the amount of Māori people who could speak Te reo Māori from the year 2001 to 2013. As stated within this source, 25.15 out of 30 percent of Māori people were able to hold sustainable conversations in Te reo Māori within the year 2001, but by 2013 that figure dropped to a reduced statistic of 23.31 percent. Major findings within a study that was conveyed by University of Waikato student, Simon Bennett implies that people who are culturally involved are more likely to overcome stressful and problematic situations, this is in comparison to those who do not have a strong cultural identity. Within the source, Bennett states that: “among Māori students a strong cultural identity increases one’s resilience to the difficulties that academic life presents”. This furthermore supports the idea that cultural identity is an important matter within today’s society.

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Cultural identity is a evident theme within the art exhibition of In pursuit of Venus (infected). This is because Lisa Reihana establishes cultural representations within her artwork and showcases the traditional Polynesian dances, chants and clothing that were popular within the era of the 1800’s. These cultural aspects are utilised within the 21st century to identify Polynesian values, practices and beliefs. Thus giving people a sense of belonging and social acceptance within the community. In an interview conducted by The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Lisa Reihana explains that she created the panoramic video in efforts to defy the false notions of Polynesian history that were shown within the wallpaper, Les Sauvages de la mer Pacifique, created by Joseph Dufour. She was able to do so within her artwork by exemplifying a more accurate account of the first relationships between Europeans and Polynesian people.

The theme of cultural identity is expressed through this artwork because Lisa showcases and supports the ideas of Polynesian essentialism, these ideas are important within the world of today as they’re the foundation of fundamental cultures within New Zealand.

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