Spread across approximately 25,000 islands, the Pacific region is one of the most expansive and remote places studied in AP Art History. This unique characteristic meant that most of its people did not had contact with those living in nearby areas; therefore keeping each artistic style within the island of origin and preventing syncretism (the blending of elements from another region into native art). Pacific art is deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of the Pacific islanders. Pacific artwork is narrative (art that tells a story), and conveys important cultural values and beliefs, such as motifs related to sea, land, and sky that are meant to demonstrate their relationship with the natural world. Some pieces are also used in ceremonies and rituals. Be sure to keep this in mind as we go island-hopping across the world's largest ocean. Welcome to the Pacific!
Compared to other places like Europe, the Pacific was not inhabited until much later, around 700 to 70,000 years ago depending on the island. The people of this area originally lived in Asia and later settled on the islands of Near Oceania (present-day Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands) and Remote Oceania (present-day Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Polynesia). Some groups in Polynesia moved even further, traveling to islands on the outskirts of the region, which is now referred to as the Polynesian Migration.
The islands of the Pacific remained untouched by outside powers until American, British, French, German, Chilean, and Japanese expansionism reached the region in the nineteenth century. As a result of this, the native people of the Pacific began to westernize. They converted to Christianity, adopted a more processed diet 🍔, and began to speak the language of their colonizers. These factors have impacted recent works made in Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia, the Pacific's sub-regions.
This map pictures the geographical limits of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, which make up the Pacific region. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia.
|Wood and fiber
|19th-early 20th century
|Feathers and fiber
|late 18th century
|Rarotonga, Cook Islands
|Tapa, fiber, wood, and feathers
|late 18th-early 19th century
|Hiapo (Tapa) from Niue
|Tapa and paint
|Tamati Waka Nene
|Oil paint on canvas
|New Ireland, Papua New Guinea
|Wood, fiber, pigment, and shell
|c. 20th century
|Torres Strait Islands, Australia
|Wood, fiber, feather, and turtle shell
|Presentation of Fijian Mats and Tapa Cloths to Queen Elizabeth II
|Photograph (silver gelatin print) of a multimedia performance
|Moai on Platform (Ahu)
|Easter Island (Rapa Nui), Chile
|Tuff and basalt