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Landmark 'Oceania' Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts (2018)

last modified Mar 21, 2019 11:17 AM

Professor Nick Thomas, Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge

The project was innovative in its conception and approach, being based in sustained dialogue with Islanders – artists, scholars,

Hawaiian Feather God
A Hawaiian feather god.
community members – from across the Pacific, over many years. While most such exhibitions adopt a regional approach, representing a variety of cultures and their distinctive art styles, ‘Oceania’ took visitors through the space and time of the region thematically, focussing on voyaging, place, performance, the gift, the colonial encounter and memory. 

The exhibition featured nearly 200 historic and contemporary works. The world-class collections of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology featured prominently, but loans were also drawn the displays and stores of nearly 30 European museums, including institutions in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Ireland. The project’s development was supported by a five-year research programme led by Nicholas Thomas, also co-curator of the exhibition, ‘Pacific Presences: Oceanic art and European museums’, funded by the European Research Council of 2013-18. The grant enabled Thomas to work closely with his co-curator, Peter Brunt, from Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, and a team of postdoctoral fellows to undertake fieldwork and wide-ranging collaborative work with many co-researchers from the Pacific. 

The exhibition was widely and affirmatively reviewed across the UK and international media, and will also be shown at the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac from March to July, 2019.

The ‘Oceania’ exhibition represented the Museum of  Archaeology and Anthropology’s most ambitious collaboration to date; being the first at a major European art museum dedicated to the art and culture of Oceania as a whole, and the largest exhibition on the region since ‘The Art of the Pacific Islands’ at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1979.