Curated by world authority on life in the Pacific Stephen Hooper, and housing over 270 works of Art, Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific is the largest and most extensive exhibition on Fiji ever assembled.
Taking place here at our very own Sainsbury Centre, the exhibition is home to a wide range of impressive and visually compelling art, including sculpture, ceramics, ivory, and shell regalia presented so as to take the viewer on a journey through the cultural history of Fiji from the 18th century. Extensive collections of art works have been bought here from all over the world, including pieces on loan from the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology at Cambridge, the Fiji Museum, the British Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) and museums in Aberdeen, Birmingham, Exeter, London, and Maidstone, as well as Dresden and Leipzig in Germany. The exhibition is the result of a three year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, a project which oversaw the thorough examination of large Fijian collections from both the UK and abroad.
So, what can one expect from this exhibition? That Fijians produce the widest range of art from anywhere in the pacific is demonstrated by expanse of artefacts. The objects assembled were generally created for practical use: on display are spears and arrows for war, bowls and cups for drinking, and votive objects used to pay respect to ancestors. Perhaps most impressively of all, the exhibition includes an eight metre double-hulled canoe build from Ironwood. Hooper has said visitors must ‘forget these things ethnographic specimens’. They should instead ‘look at these things as if they were made by the heroes of the 20th century.’ Remarkably, Hooper goes onto say that in order to draw the most from the exhibition visitors must ‘forget “artefacts”, forget “art”, forget all those categories – it’s all rubbish!’
Western work is also displayed; though naturally subordinate to the Fijian work, it provides the exhibition with a little more context. 17th century Watercolours by artists James Glen Wilson (available to view digitally by touchscreen) and Lady Constance Gordon Cumming beautifully depict a scene involving Fijian war Canoes, and provide a comprehensive catalogue of the myriad designs and items present on the island at the time.
Fiji: Art and Life in the Pacific is both thought provoking and visually stunning. I have no doubt that her majesty was impressed.