South Pacific and Oceanic Art
The museum’s South Pacific art collection covers the vast regions of Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Australia, and the islands of Southeast Asia. Thousands of miles separate some of the islands in this region, and diversity in languages, cultures, beliefs, and rituals prevails. Artworks from Polynesia and Melanesia are prominent in the museum’s collection. The importance of the concepts of mana (a spiritual energy or power possessed by people and objects) and tapu (a restriction or rule to protect the energy) as they relate to genealogy highlight the complex sociopolitical aspects of Polynesian aesthetics. The traditional belief systems of the cultures of Melanesia, which comprises New Guinea and nearby islands, emphasize ancestral and nature spirits, which have inspired some of the most powerful sculpture from the South Pacific. Artworks selected here represent a cross-section of many cultures and cosmologies in the South Pacific.