She uses art to toy with identity and subvert gender norms, but don’t think of Shigeyuki Kihara as a cultural warrior bent on shaping the world to her vision.

Art is just one thing that I do, the 30-year-old says, adding she is more likely to spend her spare time out with friends than earnestly assessing the impact of her work.

That’s surely because Kihara, whose photography show Fa’a Fafine -“ In A Manner Of A Woman opened in Paddington this week, has been challenging ideas of gender and identity all her life.

After all, she says, she has known since the beginning she is different.

Born in Samoa to a Japanese father and Samoan mother, Kihara is Fa’a Fafine, a biological male who exhibits female gender identity.

Unlike the struggles often faced by the transgender community in mainstream Australia, being Fa’a Fafine also equates to acceptance in Samoan society.

It was an accepted part of life for me to behave this way and to be this way, Kihara says of her life in Samoa.

Being brought up in Samoa, being surrounded by family members and community that embraced me for who I am and what I was, was very normal.

A rupture came in other places.

Having lived in Indonesia as a young child, Kihara spent seven years in Japan then moved at 16 to New Zealand, where she still lives.

Suddenly when I moved into places like New Zealand, I was no longer a Fa’a Fafine, I was a faggot, she says.

Do you see the shift of connotations and meanings in that?

That experience -“ where people expect me to be one or the other. There is no room for anything in between -“ is the inspiration for Fa’a Fafine -“ In A Manner Of A Woman.

In a series of sepia photographs based on originals from Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, Kihara depicts herself as Samoans of yesteryear who were photographed by Europeans under the guise of ethnography.

In fact, Kihara says, the original images romanticised Samoan people with a colonial erotic gaze.

Her exhibition aims to reclaim that view: Reoccupying the gaze where I speak of the experiences of being a Samoan from an insider’s point of view.

Of course, the show also blurs gender lines.

For one shot of a Samoan couple, Kihara transposed her male face -“ complete with moustache -“ onto a man’s body, with a photograph of herself as female alongside.

I think the exhibition is a result of all this negativity that has been put against me for being the person that I am, Kihara says.

This exhibition was an opportunity to basically raise a voice.

Fa’a Fafine -“ In A Manner Of A Woman is showing at Sherman Galleries, 16-20 Goodhope St, Paddington until Saturday 2 April, Tuesday to Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 11am-6pm.

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