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Reviewed by:
  • Repositioning Pacific Arts: Artists, Objects, Histories ed. by Anne E. Allen
  • Stacy L. Kamehiro
Repositioning Pacific Arts: Artists, Objects, Histories, edited by Anne E Allen, with Deborah B Waite. Canon Pyon, uk: Sean Kingston Publishing, 2014. isbn 978-1-907774-23-2; 178 pages, table of contents, photographs, illustrations, maps, table, contributors. Cloth, us$155.00.

Repositioning Pacific Arts: Artists, Objects, Histories draws together expanded versions of papers delivered at the Pacific Arts Association’s 7th International Symposium held in Christchurch, Aotearoa/New Zealand, in June 2003. The volume consists of an introduction, keynote essay, and sixteen chapters organized into three thematic sections. Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of Oceanic arts scholarship, contributors represent a variety of viewpoints (eg, art history, architectural practice and history, philosophy, anthropology, art practice, and museum professions) as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives.

Volume editor Anne E Allen’s introduction describes how the essays, despite the range of their cultural and historical subjects, address issues of identity and authenticity, striving “to position/reposition Oceanic art within a contemporary sensibility that takes into account the histories and current realities of Pacific peoples” (1). Adrienne Kaeppler’s keynote essay argues that visual and performance arts provide a historical discourse centered on “intercultural dialogues” about social and cultural change in the Pacific. Examining Tahitian music, Tongan barkcloth design, traditional art forms “recycled” into contemporary art forms, and Hawaiian movement and dance, Kaeppler discusses (1) the ways “traditional” arts changed as Polynesian peoples came into contact with foreign materials and ideas, and (2) how Indigenous visual cultures have an impact on contemporary arts.

Part 1 of the volume is dedicated to the broad theme of “Artefacts and Traditions.” Chapters by Ngārino Ellis (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou) and Hilary L Scothorn discuss the ways Indigenous cultural traditions were transformed through sustained contact with Euro-Americans in the nineteenth century. Ellis demonstrates how moko (permanent body marking)—taking the forms of signatures on land deeds, self-portraits drawn at the request of foreigners, wood carvings, and contemporary artworks—make political statements about the identities of those associated with them and provide a source of memory and reverence for descendants. Scothorn chronicles the evolving functions and design of Samoan barkcloth (siapo), which responded to the introduction of Christianity, foreign goods, and changing ideas about bodily presentation and emerged as a key marker of Samoan religious and social identities.

The four remaining chapters in this section analyze visual culture in the western Pacific. Pauline van der Zee identifies connections between Asmat and Kamoro (West Papua) [End Page 508] wood-carving myths and practices and their relation to male initiation rites focused on “the inseparability of life and death, and the creation of new life out of death” (44). Deborah B Waite analyzes western and central Solomon Islands maramaraitapa, carved and painted boards replicating canoe prows, which, though they do not resemble defensive shields, functioned as ritual shields, aided in social transformation, and marked clan and village identity in boys’ puberty initiations of the mid-twentieth century. Michael Gunn provides a descriptive overview of nineteenth-century New Ireland art traditions based on the study of objects in museums and private collections, published accounts, and fieldwork undertaken in 2001 and 2003. Working with John Tomowau, Harry Beran investigates carved canoe-shaped containers, which have been dated to be 200–500 years old, found in the Massim region of Papua New Guinea. Based on historical evidence and fieldwork, Beran suggests the containers functioned as ossuaries and identifies widespread connections between the recently deceased and canoes in the broader region, suggesting the containers aided the deceased’s journey to the land of the dead.

Part 2 of the volume, titled “Collections and Collecting,” presents a varied selection of essays. Moira White details debates surrounding the Maori Antiquities Act (1901) and shows how this piece of legislation was linked to creating a national museum to preserve and display Māori culture and express the uniqueness of New Zealand national identity founded on a “passing” Indigenous culture. Christian Coiffier traces the history of a large Biwat painting (Papua New Guinea) from its photographic documentation by ethnologists Margaret Mead and Reo Fortune in 1932 to...