The art of Oceania

Oceania is a vast area of the Pacific Ocean that includes the island regions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

Kiribati armor
Making do with local materials, the I-Kiribati tailored armor from coconut fiber and wore porcupine-fish helmets.

Kiribati armor

Life of Malagan
These intricate wooden carvings have confused anthropologists and confounded art historians for over a century.

The Life of Malagan

This virtuosic carving represents a creator god. It is one of the finest pieces of Polynesian sculpture in the West.

Rurutu figure known as A’a

Figure of the war god Ku-ka’ili-moku
Islanders grew fruit trees and used the wood to carve figures. This one depicts Ku, the “land snatcher.”

Polynesia, an introduction

The small-scale societies of these islands became famous in the West for their ceremonial wooden carvings.

Melanesia, an introduction

Maori meeting house
The god of war rules the world outside these sacred spaces, but inside, peace and calm prevail.

Maori meeting house

Collected from Papua New Guinea in the 1880s, this figure would otherwise have been destroyed after its ritual use.

Malagan at the British Museum

Oceania feather cape
Hawaiian nobility donned these “red garments” in ceremonies and battle and later gave them to Europeans as gifts.

Feather cape

This “lost or stolen friend” left Easter Island in 1869. Carved of dense volcanic rock, it towers over the viewer.

Easter Island Moai

The Ambum Stone, c. 1500 B.C.E., greywacke, 
Ambum Valley, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea.
This intriguing artifact has a 3,500-year history. The latest chapter? A political debate over cultural heritage.

Ambum Stone