Catalogue Essay

Leilani Kake’s Compass of Women

We cannot see air or wind; we only see their motion. We can certainly recognise the presence of water yet we often forget that it is a liquefied fluid, just as air is a gaseous fluid.

Air, wind, water are all different forms of fluid so when we experience Leilani Kake’s women moving in water, they are also living within a watery wind. Her women shift and flow as if they are bodies that breathe the water’s motion. They inhabit a gap between the terrestrial and celestial worlds. The water they swirl within is just like the air we breathe.

In the past, winds have mostly been regarded as being male entities. These ancient myths somehow miss how we now feel about wind, which is much more like the feminine spirit than any male spirit. Leilani’s women show us that these women’s movement in water is a feminine embodiment. The women reveal to us that water and wind have more parallels with the mother than the father.

The four winds always need each other. In Leilani Kake’s video projection, the winds are like sisters of the air who come from the four compass directions. They are the shown to us as the incarnation of four stages within women’s lives: youth, pregnancy, motherhood and menopause.

In her preparation for Nga Hau e Wha, Leilani wrote a poetic framework to guide her thinking towards what this projection would address – “We are all sisters, daughters, mothers, aunties, wives, girlfriends, lovers, creators, facilitators, activists, feminists, goddesses. All sizes, all shapes, different labels, same make. Wahine. Vahine. Tahine. Woman.”

Each women moves uniquely. They float in their own uniqueness. Their individuality is not only their look; it is their age, their personality, their performance as they all hover in the water. Stillness counterpoises their activity and motion contrasts their reactions. These winds are not storms but essences, they are evanescence incarnate. Leilani’s women dance within water and become visual symbols of female spirit. These women grow to be the four winds of female life. Like the amniotic fluids that nurture us all, water becomes our mother.

Ngā Hau E Whā – The Four Winds is much like a song about women. A song that moves and which has duration. The installation has a beginning and it has an end. It is not an experience that can be sampled randomly but is a relationship where we see one woman after another. It is not possible to see the four women at the same time, just as it is impossible to experience the four winds in one place at the same moment.

By paralleling women in water with women as wind, Leilani harks back to the primeval mother. Some have regarded this feminine spirit as the Great Sea Mother. Others have called her Oceania. Memories of water permeate us all. Not only did our bodies begin as fluid, they remain mostly fluid.

Ngā Hau E Whā – The Four Winds celebrates women at four stages of life. As an artwork that affirms a nurturing principle, it transforms feminism into an affirmation of female reality.

Ron Brownson
Senior Curator
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

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