Oceanian Art

Introduction

Summary

Summary of Oceanian Art
wood sculpture masks, figures
other sculpture Easter Island statues
painting tapa cloth (Polynesia and Melanesia), rock painting (Australia)
architecture timber/plant-material buildings (notably Maori meeting-houses)

Culture Areas

Though civilization (urban culture) never emerged in pre-colonial Oceania (see History of Oceania), many non-urban peoples flourished throughout the thousands of islands that make up this region. Four vast culture areas have been identified: Australia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

The Four Major Culture Areas of Oceania

Traditional art in Micronesia and Australia is relatively scarce and simple. This is true of Micronesia because the islands of this region are small and resource-scarce, and of Australia because a hunter-gatherer lifestyle was maintained in this region up until the colonial age. The artistic traditions of nomadic societies (i.e. hunter-gatherers and nomadic herders) are limited compared to those of settled peoples, given the sheer burden of carrying around physical works of art.

Traditional Oceanian art thus tends to be most abundant and complex in Melanesia and Polynesia. The degree of stylization ranges from light to extreme (see Realism vs. Stylization). The largest component of Melanesia is Papua New Guinea; correspondingly, the largest share of Melanesian art has been produced there. The equivalent is true of the largest components of Polynesia: New Zealand and Hawaii.

Main Article

Sculpture

The primary art form of Oceania is wooden sculpture. Common types are masks, small figures, and carved functional objects (e.g. bowls, clubs, canoes). The most prolific regions are Melanesia and Polynesia; interestingly, masks are common in the former region, but rare in the latter.H587,22

Melanesian Mask
Melanesian Sculptures
Polynesian Sculpture
Polynesian Sculpture
Micronesian Sculptures

Oceanian sculptures were also made from other materials, including stone, bone, and shell. Indeed, the largest and most famous of all Oceanian sculptures are the stone Easter Island statues of Easter Island, Polynesia. Some of these towering statues were embellished with coral eyes and red stone crowns.G41

Easter Island Heads
Easter Island Heads

Painting

The two foremost bodies of Oceanian painting are tapa cloth and Australian rock painting.

The art of tapa cloth flourishes in parts of Melanesia and Polynesia. This "cloth", made from pounded bark, serves a variety of purposes (e.g. wall hangings, ceremonial clothing). Tapa cloth designs, which are chiefly geometric, may be painted or dyed.

In Australia, the Aboriginal people developed fantastic styles of rock painting, executed upon natural rock surfaces (usually the wall of a cave or cliff shelter). Though Aboriginal paintings are often wholly abstract, many include figures, such as humans, animals, or spirits. Perhaps the most distinctive type is the x-ray style, in which animals are depicted with visible bones and organs.22 (Aboriginal painting also extended to wood and bark.)

Tapa Cloth
Tapa Cloth
Tapa Cloth
Australian Rock Paintings
Australian Rock Paintings
Australian Rock Paintings
Australian Log Coffins
Australian Bark Painting
Australian Shield

Architecture

Oceanian architecture was executed on a small scale relative to that of urban civilizations. Traditional Oceanian buildings are typically square or rectangular structures with gable or pyramidal roofs. The largest buildings often served as the residences of chiefs or as public halls.

Timber and other plant materials are the primary traditional Oceanian construction materials. The most famous specific type of Oceanian architecture is the Maori meeting-house. (The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand.)

Maori Meeting-house
Traditional Oceanian Building
Traditional Oceanian Buildings
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