PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A 70-foot-long animated installation on view at Brown University’s David Winton Bell Gallery is asking new questions about how 18th-century European exploration of the Pacific has been depicted in historical narratives and decorative arts.
“In Pursuit of Venus [infected],” an ambitious multimedia piece created by Maōri artist Lisa Reihana, reinterprets a 19th-century French wallpaper that features scenes of British explorer James Cook and his crews arriving in an imagined Tahitian landscape and encountering Indigenous peoples from the Pacific region. But rather than idealizing those first meetings, as the original wallpaper had, Reihana used actors and soundscapes to add nuance, complexity and chaos to many of the scenes to tell a fuller story of what may have happened.
“This is one of the most technologically advanced exhibitions the Bell Gallery has mounted,” said Kate Kraczon, the Brown Arts Institute’s exhibitions director and chief curator at the gallery. “Reihana’s project immerses visitors in illustrated landscapes of an imagined South Pacific, offers glimpses into conversations, rituals and performances that might have taken place, and communicates the looming threat of colonialism through a tense, multilayered soundtrack. The cinematic approach Reihana has taken to a complex topic — these initial stages of European colonization — makes it accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds.”
The 64-minute looping video makes its East Coast premiere on Monday, Feb. 21, at the Bell Gallery, where it will be on display in a free, open-to-the-public exhibition through Sunday, May 29. The gallery will host a public reception and celebration of Reihana on Friday, April 29, at 6 p.m.