VISIONARY OF VISUAL

Kirsten Matthew, THE BIG IDEA, May 18, 2020
How Lisa Reihana created a worldwide following and what inspires her masterful creations.

There’s not a whiff of the tortured artist about Lisa Reihana. 

It may be there, under the surface, wreaking havoc on her subconscious, but on a late autumn Auckland day, she presents as sunny and settled and as sorted as can be. 

Perhaps it’s lockdown; the quarantine period has been therapeutic for Reihana. “This is my first opportunity to be lazy, so COVID-19 has been nice,” says the renowned multidisciplinary artist. “I’ve been so busy over the past eight years - we did 21 exhibitions last year and I haven’t had a Christmas break for about four years - that I’ve been enjoying not doing too much at all.”

By the time the 55-year-old went into self-isolation in March, she’d clocked up plenty of work hours and air miles. Incredibly, Reihana opened six shows around the globe in the summer of 2020. 

Ihi  “a major video work” for the Aotea Centre foyer — was unveiled in Auckland in February. Reihana and her partner and co-creator James Pinker travelled to Germany and Holland for openings of her career-defining In Pursuit of Venus (Infected). She popped into Paris for a collaboration with shoemaker Christian Louboutin, and jetted across the ditch for the Biennale of Sydney, where Nomads of the Sea, another video installation, opened on Cockatoo Island in mid-March. 

COVID-19 put paid to all that: her exhibitions are now closed. But Lockdown Lisa has other things to get on with. “Not doing too much at all” means learning te reo Māori via Zoom with her whānau, and reading the books by science fiction writer William Gibson that she recently found in a Sydney bookshop. She’s also watching lots of films. “I’m always looking at storytelling; new visual tricks,” she says with a 1000-watt smile. “And looking at photographs too; I love that. The digital techniques online are really interesting.”

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