Oceania at the Royal Academy: the first major exhibition of Oceanic art in ther UK
Gruesomely carved mid-20th centruy canoe from West Papua. Photo My Bathroom Wall
Oceania covers roughly a third of the earth's surface, yet exclude the land masses of Australia, New Zealand and Papua, and its galaxy of pin-prick islands combine to make a territory a little larger than Iceland, with a poppulation of just two million.
Despite this challenging geography, the RA's exhibition shows that the region's artistic legacy is remarkably coherent. As Captain Cook discovered on his seminal voyage in the Endeavour, the islands were already interconnected by the phenominal seafaring and navigational skills of the locals.
Originating in the islands of Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, the artefacts on display are beautiful and poignant - made primarily of wood, bark and fabric, and embelished further with human hair, feathers, shark teeth.
Not the Tiki Room, but a Tiki room for sure. Photo My Bathroom Wall
It's imposible to speak of Pacific history without reference to Captain Jame Cook (1728-1779), who's journey in the Endevour was largely responsible for mapping the islands, and putting them into the conciousness of his contemporaries. On display are several artifacts collected by Cook.
Of all the world's cultures, I find it's those of the Pacific Islands that can't be guessed at without actually visiting and experiencing them. And so anyone wandering the exhibition who has been to the region, or has a dream to, may be a little disappointed.
But as well as the brochure paradise pushing, the islands have contributed extreme skill at navigating and sailing - the wooden objects are where Tiki came from, and the Samoan word and practice of Tatu is where tattooing came from.
The 200-year-old Hawaiian god Ku (or island snatcher): Photo My Bathroom Wall
The exhibition contains all the elements of the elemental cultures that you'd expect; rude nudes, angry gods and outrigger canoes. Some of the startling imagery was8 plundered by modernists, including operhaps Picasso and his Les Demoiselles and the like, but a more flippant evolution of the style emerged as Tiki. The 2.7m tall breadfruit Tree carving of Hawaii's god Ku can be seen in faxcimilie today in Tiki bars from Moscow, Muscat and Manchester.
This show makes a great change of pace at a large panoramic film by New Zealand artist, Lisa Reihana called 'in Pursuit of Venus [infected]'. It depicts the interaction of indigenous peoples with the arriving explorers and traders - from relatively harmless trading, to cataclysm of sexually transmitted diseases. The population of the Hawaiian Islands stood at around 250,000 in 1778, but thanks to Cook's and susequent crews fell to just 37,500 by 1900.
The show is a fascinating glimpse into the early cultures of Oceania, with xxx.
Lisa Reihana's constantly moving panoramic film. Photo My Bathroom Wall
The Oceania exhibition continues at the Royal Academy until 10th December; entry is £18 (concessions £15). If it piques your interest to visit the Pacific Islands, see My Bathroom Wall, and for a look at contemporary Tiki culture see My Bathroom Wall.