The Human Form: The Figure in Oceanic Art

Oceania is the collective name for the islands scattered throughout most of the Pacific Ocean. Oceania has traditionally been divided into four parts: Australasia (Australia and New Zealand), Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Human life has existed in the regions of Oceania for about 33,000 years. Because Oceania has a history of isolation, several of the many cultures within in still preserve their traditional and/or ancestral ways. And because of their vast plethora of years of cultures, traditions, and varieties, there is a large collection of the beauties of art from Oceania.  Their art, including media such as sculpture, pottery, rock art, basketry, masks, painting, and personal decoration. In these cultures, art and architecture, has often been closely connected.  To those of the oceanic regions, the human body and form is the most basic medium and subject of art there was. The human received both removable and permanent decorations, including scarification, which involved slicing open the skin and adding substances, such as smashed red ants, to "enhance" the work of skin art.              The works included in this Exhibition are ranged from separate appearances, utilitarian purposes, medium distinctions, symbolism roots. Each of these pieces relates to the human figure and the human form.   A body and/or a face is depicted within each work of art.             Most works of art of Oceania are created for religious, spiritual, or practical use.  The sentiment behind each and every piece is in relation to beliefs, customs, heirarchy,  Art, to them, is very symbolic, and none of which you will ever see means nothing to the Oceanic people.  References: "Oceania". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2016<http: / /www.britannica.com /place /oceania-region-pacific-ocean>. | Lindstrom, Geoffrey M., and Lamont White. "Oceania: Islands, Land, People." Oceania: Islands, Land, People. Cultural Survival, 2010. Web. 27 Apr. 2016. <https: / /www.culturalsurvival.org /ourpublications /csq /article /oceania-islands-land-people>. |

In Oceania, some hooks were used for keeping food out of the reach of rodents while others, of a sacred nature, were kept in ceremonial houses. It is particularly in the Sepik region that suspension hooks bearing the head of Janus were carved. This piece features curved motifs unique to the Iatmul people. The figure, with its stylised face, half-man, half-bird, represents a clan ancestor or mythical hero with a protective role, its spirit meant to protect its owner in time of war. It is likely that two bunches of areca nuts were hung from this hook in a symmetrical fashion, one on the left to bring about the defeat of enemies, and the other on the right to bring a warrior luck. In the centre, a magical stone was placed in a fibrous bag, a bilum, symbolising the division of the cosmos and the balance of the complementary forces (male and female, the living and the dead). This work of art is very humane in terms of its symbolism, practical use, and purpose for being created.
To honor their dead, Easter Islanders constructed wooden idols that were considered visual manifestations of the spirits of the deceased. Wood was the material favored by local artisans, usually from the indigenous Sophora toromiro tree. Wooden figures are called moai (sculptures) toromiro. Moai were normally wrapped in tapa cloth and stored in the rafters of houses. On ceremonial occasions they were brought out and worn around the neck of the owner or a dancer. Moai aringa, double-headed or Janus-faced sculptures, may be depictions of the legendary twin-faced Easter Island warrior, Rav-hiva-aringa-erua. Moai papa (flat sculptures) are female figures or hermaphroditic depictions of a deified ancestral being. It is possible that this rare example, collected in 1870 on the island by a Chilean naval expedition, combines both these types. The carving's double and ambiguous sexuality expresses the duality that is a sign of the supernatural. The two heads are indicative of the all-knowing, all-seeing power of omnipotent spirits that can look backward and forward, surveying both the visible and invisible realms. Easter Island female figures are typically flat, with wide, planklike bodies. They often have masculine features, such as this one's goatee, which may show that the supernatural power of the female beings they represent is equivalent to that of their male counterparts. The figure has elongated earlobes, a reference to her great age, decorated with disk-shaped ornaments. Her long fingers are a sign of aristocracy, as is the circle around the lumbar region, symbolizing the maro, the sacred loincloth of authority. This work of art is relative to the ways of life of people who lived on Easter Island, and it was truly significant to the life, sexuality, and society of the population. (Credit: Gift of the Faith-dorian and Martin Wright family, New York, to American Friends of the Israel Museum, in memory of Douglas Newton)
This photograph depicts an unidentified Maori woman of unknown tribal affiliation. It was taken by the New Zealand photographer Arthur James Iles in Rotorua in the early 20th century. It is one of a series of twenty studio portraits of Maori taken by Iles in Museum Victoria's collections. A professional photographer active during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Iles photographed a range of subjects including people, landscapes, historical and tourist sites as well as indigenous flora and fauna. Iles's specialisation was portraiture, particularly of the Maori population. Maori life had been a common subject among photographers since the mid 19th century. Popular with the non-indigenous population, several categories of Maori pictures dominated the market. These included nostalgic depictions of 'beauties' and 'noble warriors' and the re-enactment of pre-contact life. The emergence of postcards around the beginning of the 20th century resulted in a resurgence in the production of photographs of Maori. A business man, Iles recognised this renewed interest in Maori culture. He drew on established subjects, photographing senior men and young women. Iles's efforts to attract Maori to his studios were aided by two factors. Firstly his association with Captain Gilbert Mair, a highly regarded captain of Maori troops loyal to the colonial government, facilitated visits by Maori community. Secondly, his marriage to Rebecca Elsie Utuatonga, a Maori woman, is likely to have assisted him to encourage young women to be photographed. In this photograph the woman's face is adorned with a moko ngutu [female lip tattoo] and moko kauae [female chin tattoo]. The moko appear to have been enhanced by the photographer for aesthetic emphasis, a common practice in studio portraiture of this type. Moko often referenced whakapapa [genealogical lines] and acknowledged the status and rank of a person. They were also a form of personal adornment. The woman is wearing a kahu kiwi [kiwi feather cloak]. Kahu huruhuru [feather cloaks] became popular in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Of these, the kahu kiwi were the most highly regarded. Feathers decorate the woman's hair. The white feathers are possibly kotuku (white heron or Ardea alba modesta). The black and white feather is the distinctive tail feather of the now extinct huia (Heteralocha acutirostris). Traditionally such head ornamentation was reserved for people of high rank. In order to meet the expectations of the non-indigenous market, however, photographers endeavoured to accentuate the cultural differences of their subjects. Thus, sitters were often dressed in all of their cultural ornamentation. Body art, fashion, and makeup is quite possibly the most representational form of art when it comes to depicting the human form, culture, and society. This photo of a Maori woman is a peek into the physical of the Maori culture.
This photograph depicts Tuterei Karewa of the Ngatimaru tribe, North Island, New Zealand. It was taken by the New Zealand photographer Arthur James Iles. It is one of a series of twenty studio portraits of Maori taken by Iles in Museum Victoria's collections. A professional photographer active during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Iles photographed a range of subjects including people, landscapes, historical and tourist sites as well as indigenous flora and fauna. Iles's specialisation was portraiture, particularly of the Maori population. Maori life had been a common subject among photographers since the 1850s. Popular with the non-Indigenous population, several categories of Maori pictures dominated the market. These included nostalgic depictions of 'beauties' and 'noble warriors' and the re-enactment of pre-contact life. The emergence of postcards around the beginning of the 20th century resulted in a resurgence in the production of photographs of Maori. A business man, Iles recognised this renewed interest in Maori culture. He drew on established subjects, photographing senior men and young women. Iles's efforts to attract Maori to his studios were aided by two factors. Firstly his association with Captain Gilbert Mair, a highly regarded captain of Maori troops loyal to the colonial government, facilitated visits by Maori community. Secondly, his marriage to Rebecca Elsie Utuatonga, a Maori woman, is likely to have assisted him to encourage young women to be photographed. In this photograph, Tuterei Karewa is adorned with a full face moko [Maori tattoo]. The moko appears to have been enhanced by the photographer for aesthetic emphasis, a common practice in studio portraiture of this type. Moko often referenced whakapapa [genealogical lines] and acknowledged the status and rank of a person. They were also a form of personal adornment. Tuterei Karewa is dressed in a pihepihe. A style of kakahu [Maori cloak], pihepihe are decorated with pokinikini or cylindrical flax tags. The chequered effect of the tags is created by scraping away the surface skin of the flax at regular intervals to reveal the muka [flax fibre] inside. The garment is woven together and dyed, often in paru [mud rich in iron oxide]. The exposed fibres absorb the dye creating the tonal variation. This body art is highly symbolic in terms of appearance, social status, occupation, and more. It contrasts sharply with Western body art.
In pre-European times the pataka [raised storehouse] was the most prominent feature of a Maori village. Their decorative exteriors represented the status and wealth of a tribe. Pataka stored preserved foods as well as tools, clothing and vessels. These storehouses also held the personal possessions and provisions of a chief. During the late 19th century, pataka became obsolete with the emergence of new large meeting houses. This carving would have been the central piece of several panels used to decorate the front wall of a pataka. This panel is known as the kuaha [entranceway]. It is carved in the Te Arawa style of the late 19th century. Te Arawa, a tribe from the North Island of New Zealand, employed a carving technique in this period that was distinguished by the use of deep sculptural relief. The figure depicted in this carving has paua shell (Haliotis sp.) eyes and a moko [facial tattoo] enhanced with black pigment. It is likely that it represents a tribal deity. This work of art encompasses several characteristics of Oceanic peoples. Religiously, spiritiously, practically, and in relation to their other forms of art, the Pataka is truly an embodiment of the human form in Oceanic Art.
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