Thursday, 26 February 2009 11:58 AM

Pacific Art Gaining Popularity

Art from the various cultures of the region, referred to as Oceanic Art, is gaining popularity, attracting more attention especially in the U. S.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the 'art of Pacific Island cultures from the 18th to early 20th century is finding renewed resonance in museums across the U.S., including a new exhibition in San Diego'.

"Oceanic Art: A Celebration of Form," is an exhibition of about 100 objects from the collection of Los Angeles collector, Valerie Franklin, and the holdings of Edward and Mina Smith, who live near San Diego in the United States.

According to the article, many more people are looking at Oceanic arts nowadays 'not only at ethnographic repositories, as in the past, but in mainstream art museums'.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

In San Diego, "Oceanic Art" is paired with "Black Womanhood: Icons, Images, and Ideologies of the African Body," a traveling show, as part of an effort to expand the Balboa Park museum's global reach and attract a broader audience.

'The museum's first exhibition on the subject in 40 years, it's a welcoming gesture to Southern California's large population of South Pacific Island people, says Executive Director Derrick R. Cartwright. But it's also a timely event that taps into "burgeoning curiosity about the works of art that come out of [the region's] inherently fragile, insular ecosystems," he says'.

Though far from a comprehensive survey, the show offers considerable insight into the art of Oceania -- the collective term for about 25,000 Pacific islands that are home to 1,800 cultures and hundreds of artistic traditions. Works on view include figurative sculpture, bark cloth, jewelry, baskets, ceramic containers, musical instruments, canoe ornaments, shields and weapons. Mostly made between the late 18th and early 20th centuries, they are the work of anonymous artists.

A particularly rare, life-size figure from Micronesia is carved of wood from a breadfruit tree. Other pieces make creative use of stone, grass, bark, shell, feathers, bone and human hair. The face of a wood canoe prow ornament from the Solomon Islands is decorated with trade beads, shells and pigments. A container made of a gourd, also from the Solomon Islands, is topped by a seated wood figure adorned with fiber, shell and rat teeth.

Varied as they are, all the works merge religion and spirituality with aesthetics and have ceremonial or practical functions. Carvings of gods, spirits or ancestors may double as architectural elements, handles of fly swatters or hooks that suspend food and other valuable goods out of the reach of animals.

"These are timeless works of art that complement our permanent collection," Cartwright says.

But as George Ellis, a scholar of Oceanic art and director emeritus of the Honolulu Academy of Arts who guest curated the show, puts it: "This is not art for art's sake. This is art that serves religious purposes and societal needs in a very real way that, for me, gives it a soul. It speaks of people, their fears, hopes and aspirations -- the same concerns we have but reflected in different forms. It's exciting, wonderful art from a part of the world that we know very little about."