HMS Pandora Gallery at Museum of Tropical Queensland (2019) by Queensland Museum NetworkQueensland Museum Network
In 1791, HMS Pandora was shipwrecked off the coast of Australia after searching for the Bounty mutineers in Polynesia.
Shells exhibited in the HMS Pandora Gallery (2018) by Queensland Museum NetworkQueensland Museum Network
Although the artefacts recovered from the wreck have outlived those who made or collected them, we can use these objects to learn more about the past, and to explore how people relate to them in the present.
Bone fishhooks, made by artist Hiro Ou Wen (2019) by Jasmin GuentherQueensland Museum Network
This exhibition celebrates the rich cultural heritage and contemporary art practice of Oceania by displaying materials and artworks from French Polynesia.
Some of these contemporary works were inspired by artefacts from HMS Pandora.
Mother of pearl shell, with hand-drawn fishhook designs (2019) by Jasmin GuentherQueensland Museum Network
Experience how these objects can shed new light on the Pandora collection, and connect people across time and space.
The art of fishing
Fish have always been a staple food in Oceania. Consequently, good fishing tackle has always been of great value.
Mother of pearl fishhook reproductions (2019) by Jasmin GuentherQueensland Museum Network
Fishhooks were highly specialised and made in a variety of sizes and shapes, dependent on the fish they were intended for and the waters they were used in.
They were also used as exchange items and were avidly collected by the first European visitors to the islands.
Polynesian artefacts displayed in HMS Pandora gallery (2020) by Queensland Museum NetworkQueensland Museum Network
Indeed, fishing implements – hooks and lures – make up the largest group of objects among the Polynesian Pandora artefacts.
Artist Hiro Ou Wen in his workshop (2019) by Jasmin GuentherQueensland Museum Network
In 2019, artist Hiro Ou Wen created shell pendants in the shape of Polynesian fish hooks, after seeing images of those found with the wreck of Pandora.
Shell fishhook reproduction (2019) by Queensland Museum NetworkQueensland Museum Network
The fish hook reproductions made by Hiro are an indication of how items from the past can influence contemporary art practice.
Fish hooks made of pearl shell (2019) by Queensland Museum NetworkQueensland Museum Network
As well as fish hooks, several shanks made from mother of pearl were recovered from the Pandora wreck.
Tahitian bonito lure (2019) by Queensland Museum NetworkQueensland Museum Network
These shanks were components of bonito lures, attached to a shell or bone hook point.
When suspended in water, the lures resemble small fish moving in the water and attract the predatory bonito fish.
Unlike shell fishhooks, shell bonito lures are still used in French Polynesia and across Oceania. The only difference? Where once they were made from natural fibres, shell and bone, metal is now used for the points and synthetic fibres have replaced the plant fibre cords.
Bonito lure component (2019) by Queensland Museum NetworkQueensland Museum Network
After 187 years underwater, the lures found with Pandora had lost their hook points and plant fibres.
Without them, the lures could not be linked to a particular region, as these kinds of shanks were used all across Oceania, with minor variation in form and size.
Contemporary art at the Centre des Métiers d’Art
de la Polynésie française
Tokainiua Devatine choosing materials for his artwork. (2019) by Jasmin GuentherQueensland Museum Network
Meet Tokainiua Devatine: artist, anthropologist and professor of Polynesian history and societies at the Centre des Métiers d’Art de la Polynésie française (CMA) in Pape'ete, Tahiti.
Making Connections art installation (2019) by Queensland Museum NetworkQueensland Museum Network
Inspired by the many shell shanks from the Pandora collection, and the lack of associated regions attributed to each individual item, Tokainiua created an art installation to reflect the nature of these lures as things connecting the peoples of Oceania, highlighting their similarities and shared histories.
Bringing the past into the present
Marché de Pape’ete (2019) by Jasmin GuentherQueensland Museum Network
The creation of contemporary art in French Polynesia is a thriving industry. The Municipal Market, Pape'ete, serves as a trading hub for both locals and tourists. Registered artists produce a variety of art forms, incorporating local materials such as wood, stone and mother of pearl.
Necklaces with bone pendants shaped like fishhooks. (2019) by Jasmin GuentherQueensland Museum Network
Reproductions of historic objects at these markets are an example of how the past persists in the present.
Shell necklace with a small bonito lure featured on the pendant. (2019) by Queensland Museum NetworkQueensland Museum Network
Certain contemporary creations, like pieces of jewellery, are visibly inspired by the region’s history and cultural heritage.
The material: mother of pearl
Shells of Pinctada Margaritifera (2019) by Jasmin GuentherQueensland Museum Network
Mother of pearl (also known as nacre) is an important natural resource in Polynesia. Only certain molluscs, like the black-lip pearl oyster (Pinctada margaritifera), produce this particular iridescent inner shell layer.
Mother of pearl necklace with polished shell pendant (2019) by Queensland Museum NetworkQueensland Museum Network
The mesmerising visual qualities made it the perfect material for creating tools, like fishhooks, and for prestigious objects, such as necklaces.
A pearl farm at Taha’a, one of the Leeward Islands, located to the west of Tahiti. (2019) by Jasmin GuentherQueensland Museum Network
In the past, access to oysters was limited as they needed to be harvested from coral reefs. Today, they are commonly grown in aquaculture, especially in the Tuamotu Archipelago and the Gambier Islands.
The oysters are valued for their ability to produce pearls, French Polynesia’s top export earner.
Meet the artist behind Making Connections: French Polynesia and the HMS Pandora Collection (2019) by Jasmin GuentherQueensland Museum Network
This display was developed as part of postgraduate doctoral work by Jasmin Guenther, from James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. The project concentrated on Polynesian artefacts in the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s HMS Pandora collection.