Arts writer T J McNamara has reviewed Ngā Hau E Whā – The Four Winds for the Weekend Herald (2 April 2011)
Work of intensity and bravery gives a magical experience
Photographs can never completely convey the impact of a work of art, particularly when it is an installation. Such a work is the powerful, ritualistic installation Ngā Hau E Whā – The Four Winds by Leilani Kake, which was part of the Auckland Arts Festival and continues at the Fresh Gallery in the Otara Town Centre. It is hard to photograph because the work is in a room shrouded in thick darkness and surrounds viewers in four sides so they are completely immersed.
Immersed is a suitable word because on each wall a figure of a naked woman floats in semi-darkness. The viewer is aware that although the women are vertical, the spread of their hair and the gentle movement of their bodies make it clear they are floating.
The forms that emerge from the water, notably face, breasts and belly, appear especially illuminated while the rest of the body dissolves into dark space. Behind each of the four figures there is a light, sometimes the moon and sometimes like the tunnel of light people report seeing when they have had a near-death experience.
The four subjects are of different ages: a young woman, two mature women and a heavily pregnant woman.
The darkened room is often shaken by thunder, with a sound track that is a poetic salutation to the night and the coming of light. The whole is a work of great intensity and, it should be said, of bravery, because it breaks Pacific Island and Māori cultural taboos about nudity.
The gentle movement of the women is entirely in keeping with the mystical atmosphere, with some lovely details such as when the movement of the arms of the youngest woman produces a sudden shower of golden light.
The whole wonderful piece is beautifully conceived and carried through entering into the eternal world of myth. It gives a profound sense of the power of the female spirit and it is well worth braving the dark to achieve this insight. To enter into the pitch blackness and see the forms emerge is a magical experience.