Textiles at the Oceania Exhibition – Royal academy

Posted by on Oct 14, 2018 in Clients, Discussion | 0 comments

cloth looks like patchwork

Beautiful barkcloth from Oceania, much better picture in link to British Museum 


The Oceania exhibition brings together the greatest collection of art from the island cultures dotted across the Pacific Ocean, Micronesia, Polynesia and  Melanesia. The Pacific occupies a huge area,  over a third of the earth’s surface. It includes Hawaii, New Zealand and New Guinea. The exhibition is hugely affecting with strong, graphic statues and carvings – their influence on Western 20th century artists like Picasso and Henry Moore are clear to see. 

Most of the artworks were traded rather than stolen stemming from a culture of gift giving amongst the Pacific peoples who would give to visitors they wished to continue to trade with. The fantastic artistry and craft skills of some of the gifts – like barkcloth – were not fully appreciated by some recipients like Captain Cook. 

Barkcloth (or tapa cloth) is made by hammering wet bark on an anvil repeatedly until it forms very thin sheets – it is often mistaken for paper and (apparently) has a soft, pliant feel. In the Pacific the bark used comes from the breadfruit or mulberry tree. The cloth is then decorated by being dyed in intricate geometric patterns. In the Oceania exhibition the pieces displayed reminded me of patchwork quilts. Originally they were used as wall hangings and were part of the important  ceremonies around births, deaths and marriages.  

The barkcloth is simply stunning – although (of course) you cannot touch it you sense that it is soft and pliable, delicate yet strong.

I’m going back to the exhibition and will take a better picture next time.  

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