The five works from Yuki Kihara’s 2015 series A Study of a Samoan Savage show a man as a manifestation of the Pacific demi-god Maui, being examined. The images show the use of medical instruments in the human body’s evaluation and reference the role of photography in 19th-century scientific and pseudo-scientific analysis. In Kihara’s estimation, Samoan men were historically depicted as ‘exotic savages, fetishized as a subject and as an object, colonised and treated as commodities’.
As background to this series Kihara studied the historical European use of anthropometry as a tool in social anthropology. Anthropometry involves ‘taking the measure of a man’ and is a pseudo-science encountered in cross-cultural studies of non-Western people. The practice involved the hierarchical evaluation of race based on body shape and skin colour. Early anthropologists used photography to collect information about ‘body types’, which they then employed to propound scientific theories, including racial eugenics or the supposed genetic improvement of the human race.
A Study of a Samoan Savage is both an indictment of the stereotyping of anthropometry and a re-presentation of its methodologies. Maui’s expression connotes a sense of old-fashioned stillness in posing for a studio portrait. Yet he also looks defiant, which issues a challenge that strongly contrasts the historical ways such subjects were depicted. Through taking control of the camera and representation, this artwork conveys a provocative message by reusing a historical method of cultural categorisation to critique and rebut racial bias.
- A study of a Samoan Savage: Nose Width with Vernier Caliper
- Production date
- C-type print
- 800 x 1000 mm
- Credit line
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery, 2015
- Accession no
- Copying restrictions apply
- New Zealand Art
- Display status
- Not on display
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