Lisa Reihana – Sex Trade, Gift for Banks, Dancing Lovers, Sextant Lesson (18550) (19205)

Lisa Reihana Sex Trade, Gift for Banks, Dancing Lovers, Sextant Lesson (18550) (19205) 2017. Pigment print on Hahnemühle paper, mounted on aluminium dibond behind acrylic. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, purchased 2018

Lisa Reihana Sex Trade, Gift for Banks, Dancing Lovers, Sextant Lesson (18550) (19205) 2017. Pigment print on Hahnemühle paper, mounted on aluminium dibond behind acrylic. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, purchased 2018

Dear Sex Trade, Gift for Banks, Dancing Lovers, Sextant Lesson (18550) (19205),

I’m surprised to see you here, and I’m conflicted.

At once I love you then I hate you. Do you remember the first time I saw you in your entirety? It was bitterly cold, an unexpected Toronto snowstorm and I hid from the sleet in the warm Galleria Italia at the newly renovated Frank Gehry architecturally designed and renamed Art Gallery of Ontario. (10-year-old Juanita did not foresee this future for herself, she was hungry for food… Now she’s hungry for art and meaning, how wanky! Te Kore, Te Pō, Te Ao, born, live, die.)

First your scale impressed me – at seventeen metres you were massive. Then colours, blues greens and browns like the tukutuku panels at my marae Rāpaki, which sits on (and you’ll like this) the Banks Peninsula – is that the gift you’re talking about? A whole peninsula? Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū?

I remember sitting in the darkness on the floor with a bunch of strangers and you told us a 64-minute story you’d been fluctuating on for ten years. My God! I thought, ten years is a long time to hold a story. Mind you, some people hold their stories forever and it makes them sick. But I listened deeper and passed through the surface, your homogenisation annoyed me, your satire excited me. And you told me your full name In Pursuit of Venus [Infected], and that you had to compartmentalise down because time and space (and probably money) couldn’t handle your epic scale.

Two months later we were separated – by ocean and by pandemic.

So now I’m seeing you in your compact state and I’m quietly protective. I want the whole world to see all seventeen metres of your storied history, and yet I want you for myself because what if they don’t get the joke? What if they only see old stuff, dead stuff, extinct stuff? My mum would say “Well, who is they?” And I guess the answer is you dear reader, silent witness.

Beyond your borders however is the mana of wāhine Māori in creative space/time, you emerge from Lisa Reihana like Hineahuone from the clay, you are sent outwards like the poetry of Hine-Haaka and embraced in the knowing of Hineraukatauri.

There is a wider social implication in your content where exists a tension, taut with complexity and uncomfortable, painful even. It is a legacy of colonisation in Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa and you are a moment in colonised time, a representation of ideas, an employer of actors and technicians, a piss-take, but mostly you are quite obviously a reflection of myself. You look at me, I look at you, our ideas meet in the space between and voilà, you remain the same while I have changed a little.

Kia ora, ā, kā mihi, Juanita

25 November 2021

Juanita Hepi

Juanita Hepi (Kāi Tahu, Ngāti Wai, Ngāpuhi) is the programme manager of Te Mātāpuna Mātātahi | Children’s University. She is an educator, Indigenous storyteller and māmā to three