Oceanic Art
History, Characteristics of Culture of Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia.

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Kii-Hulu Manu (c.18th century)
Hawaiian effigy made of wicker,
feathers, dog teeth, mother-of-pearl.
Now in the University of Gottingen.

Oceanic Art


What is Oceanic Art?
Different to Western Art
The Style of Oceanic Art
Unity of Style in the Oceanic Arts
Common Features in the Style of Oceanic Art
Melanesia: The New Guinea Basin
Melanesian Style of Art
Style in The Transitional Zone
Polynesian Style of Art
Easter Island

Traditional Maori Tiki Pendant
Musee du Quai Branly, Paris.

For the chronology of Prehistoric art
including dates and events, please
see: Prehistoric Art Timeline.
For a guide to later works, please
see: History of Art Timeline.

Definition: What is Oceanic Art?

In the arts, the rather wide term "Oceanic Art" describes artworks (arts and crafts) produced by indigenous native peoples within the huge geographical zone - nearly 10,000 kilometres (6,000 miles) from north to south and some 14,500 kilometres (9,000 miles) from east to west - of the Pacific Ocean.

Diversity of Pacific Art

The zone encompasses a continent (Australia), the second largest island in the world (New Guinea), several other large islands such as those of New Zealand - and a host of smaller islands littering the huge surface of the Pacific between New Guinea and South America. Not surprisingly, the native tribal art produced in such a vast area is very diverse in form, and for ethnic as well as geographical reasons. Its creators are the descendants of successive settlings by migrants from the west of mixed origins, some Mongoloid, some Melanotic or dark-skinned. Anthropologists and ethnologists usually identify three separate areas in Oceania - namely, Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia. There are frequent affinities with the art and culture of the tribes of South-East Asia.

Melanesian Tribal Mask.

Art of Ancient Persia
Chinese Art
Chinese Pottery
Japanese Art
Art of India

For a review of primitive art forms
including painting, sculpture and
decorative arts, see: Ancient Art.

For a brief review of the influences
and history of Muslim visual arts
see: Islamic Art.

For definitions, meanings and
explanations of different arts,
see Types of Art.

For details of differing types
and styles of visual and fine
arts, see: What is Art?

Different to Western Art

Similar to indigenous African art including African sculpture, Oceanic artifacts were not made with any notion of their being "art" as the word is used in the West. Oceanic painting, sculpture and wood-carving were conceived as an integral part of the religious and social ceremony of everyday island life, and were aspects of the various prevalent forms of ancestor-worship and spirit-worship. The focus on fertility is recurrent and there are also more sinister signs of occasional headhunting and ritual cannibalism.

Masks and ornamented skulls as well as ancestor statues, abound. Traditional motifs are incised, carved or painted on canoes, paddles, shields, pottery, stools and vessels. Representational art is not usually prized; individual features ar subordinated to a strong formal rhythm of drawing or modelling, tending towards exaggeration or abstraction. The objects or patterns designed were often conceived to impart some mana, or supernatural power, and usually reflect the imagery of local ceremonies. In addition to these types of religious art, various forms of "living" body art were also practised, like body painting, tattooing and face-painting.

To compare masks, see: Native American Indian art.


There is archeological evidence of human settlement in Oceania as early as the Upper Palaeolithic period of the Stone Age, but little rock art of any great antiquity survives since with a few exceptions, like the monumental lava-stone statues on Easter Island the materials used are not especially long-lasting: painted and carved wood, bark-cloth, vegetable fibres, feathers and bone. Once made, few artifacts were conserved as treasures or enduring memorials; most were abandoned or sometimes destroyed once their immediate purpose had been fulfilled. However, because foreign intrusion into parts of the region is relatively recent, the traditions in which they were conceived have often remained unadulterated and stable well into this century. For one of the best collections of ethnographic artifacts from Oceania, see: the British Museum, in London.

NOTE: the recently announced Sulawesi Cave art, dating as far back as 37,900 BCE, is easily the oldest Stone Age art ever found in Oceania, and has significant implications for the dating of Australian Aboriginal art. It may also indicate the presence of cave art in islands of the South Pacific.

The Style of Oceanic Art

The Pacific Ocean harbours innumerable islands where a relatively isolated archaic civilization has perpetuated itself down to our own time, without its variety destroying its fundamental unity. In it we find confirmation of the magical and symbolical meaning of primitivism/primitive art. The artists of Oceania were very imaginative in the creation of unusual forms and shapes. They expressed themselves most completely in sculpture, and sometimes in drawing. The Oceanians carved figures in relief or in the round, masks and a mass of other objects decorated with chiselling or inlays. The Melanesians added colour to them. Oceanic drawing is revealed in tattooing (strictly a Polynesian art), in the designs on tapas made of bark, in figurines engraved on wood and in rock carvings. At first sight, Oceanic sculpture and drawing exhibit an extreme variety of styles. A closer scrutiny modifies this opinion, which, however, certain authors still hold.

Note: one of the least known forms of Oceanic art, a specialty of Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides) in the South Pacific, is "sand drawing". This particular type of sand art is recognised by UNESCO as a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity'.

Unity of Style in the Oceanic Arts

A primitive art - it is one of the essential features of its primitiveness - has a mission, which does not consist as it does with us in expressing the impressions of the creative artist, but rather the feelings of a group. Among the Oceanic peoples anxiety about the hereafter is predominant. Melanesian philosophy, like Australian, conceives of a world with no differentiation where dead and living, natural and supernatural, coexist in close association. The living have to defend themselves against the jealousy of the dead. As a result apparatus for magical precautions has been created: images of the dead, mingled with those of the totemic animals, lizards, crocodiles, sea birds (which are the most ancient ancestors deified), decorate the assembly houses, serve as masks for the dancers of so-called 'secret' societies and sanctify a large number of everyday objects.

Works of art, by bringing the myths into everyday life, ensure the balance of society, but the chieftain is the link between this world and the supernatutal world. His power is based on a genealogy which goes back to the creating gods, as well as on a freely spent and widely distributed fortune. This tradition is well suited to encourage creation, for the abundance of works of art and their brilliance are evidence of the same generosity with regard to the dead (whom these works celebrate) as with regard to the living (who extract from them an additional amount of magical protection).

The great works of art are accomplished in a holiday atmosphere. The rich man who commissions them maintains the artists and sees to it that they are amply supplied with both necessities and luxuries. Parsimony over the cost would risk compromising the completion of the works and would put their mystical value in danger.

The Oceanic artists, and especially the sculptors in wood - to whom we owe the construction of canoes -are admired as a class; their position, both social and material, is comparable with that of the greatest chiefs. Magic, including the impeccable accomplishment of the rites, is as indispensable to perfect creation, linked with the supernatural world, as manual skill or inventive genius. The social position of Polynesian artists is just as high. They are credited with a special virtue called mana which is a Melanesian conception. Mana is a force which extends from simple prestige to magical power. Among artists it is a question of establishing communion with the supernatural world. Mana is transmissible by contact. The tools of a great artist preserve his power, like an accumulator charged with electrical energy, and may transmit it to the man who is worthy of it. Representations of the deified dead, sometimes assembled in sanctuaries around the tombs, sometimes preserved in huts, are less numerous than in Melanesia. It is exceptional for these figures to adorn everyday objects, except those intended for sacred uses.

The beliefs of the Polynesian have evolved towards a cosmogony which is probably of Asiatic origin; it is dominated by the omnipotence of a few great divinities. Although the names of the gods vary according to the place and time, their functions remain clearly defined, and art has produced only a few representations of them.

Common Features in the Style of Oceanic Art

To make himself understood by the community the primitive artist has to use formulas accessible to everyone. Hence quasi-permanent styles are indispensable as both a practical and a ritual necessity. Once more, art stands out as a language by which the artist addresses the community in forms acceptable to it. These 'acceptable forms' constitute a style.

The Style of Heads

Polynesian statuary has a common feature: the heads of its figures are exaggeratedly large. This peculiarity appears in the majority of primitive imagery which thus naively emphasises the importance attributed to the seat of the personality. Among the Oceanians, notorious hunters of their enemies' heads, but also pious preservers of their parents' heads, there exists a pseudo-statuary in which the preserved head is modelled over with wax and resin, and painted. Consequently a style is best revealed in its treatment of heads and masks. Among the primitives the body or bust is only a support for the head, and we can observe how the shape of the trunk and the other limbs undergoes few modifications. We shall classify the styles according to the different treatments of the head or face.

The Two-Dimensional Convention

The art historian Maurice Leenhardt has analysed the aesthetic mentality of the Oceanians to perfection; he emphasises the difficulty the New Caledonians have in conceiving of a world of more than two dimensions. This explains the door-frames of this region. The guardians of the entrance are ancestors stylised into a magnified flattened mask and a trunk reduced to a few geometrical signs. The same formula is applied to ridge-pole figures. These 'two-dimensional' characteristics recur elsewhere: in the New Hebrides, in the masks from Ambrym, at Malekula, in the trunks of trees made into drums booming with the voices of the ancestors whose faces they bear. In the Gulf of Papua, among the Abelam, in New Guinea, images of ancestors look like cut-out drawings. Other figures from Ambrym are carved more deeply, cut, over-modelled (and painted) in the trunks of ferns. These figures have large discs for eyes, a characteristic recurring in the equally 'two-dimensional' statuary of the Marquesas Islands and New Zealand.

This treatment of the mass in two dimensions may be confined to the face. Sometimes a flat face is contained in a rectangle (New Guinea, Gulf of Huon, Geelvink Bay), but more frequently in a triangle. Examples abound, from Lake Sentani to Polynesia (Tonga, Santa Cruz, Moorea, Raiavavae), and in Micronesia (the Carolines). Moreover the same formulas are applied in some statuaries of the Indian archipelago (Batak in Sumatra, Nias, Letti, the Philippines). According to Leenhardt these relations discovered on the path from Asia to Oceania enable us to credit the 'two-dimensional' style with a probably ancient Asiatic origin.

Figures in the round and masks in accentuated relief are found, on the other hand, to the north of New Caledonia. The facial features are similar to those of the bas-reliefs on doors and their formal massing is akin to that of the Solomon Islands statues. This transition from two to three dimensions is almost imperceptible.

Melanesia: The New Guinea Basin

The most "aesthetic" art comes from Melanesia, which includes New Guinea and the fringes of smaller islands to the north and east. Stone Age art is probably best represented by the Karawari Caves in Papua New Guinea which has the best examples of hand stencils and other types of parietal art in Melanesia. For a comparison with Australian aboriginal finger markings, please see: Koonalda Cave Art (18,000 BCE).

There is enormous variety, even within small but fairly populous regions such as the Sepik River in New Guinea. Melanesia is also the area nearest to Indonesia, where there is a tradition of decorative brilliance and fanciful ornament. Wood carving, often in colour, predominates, and the ancestor figure and the human head are recurrent themes, both in woven or carved and brightly painted masks and in pattern form, as decoration on all types of surface. To a Western art-lover, unfamiliar with their symbolism, the visual intensity of these crafts - sometimes horrific - can be haunting. In parts of Papua New Guinea, a craftsmen's work was prized, even collected, and specialist artists emerged.

Aside from New Guinea, the sculpture of New Ireland, one of the main islands in the Bismarck Archipelago, has attracted great attention in the West - especially the ancestor figures known as uli, and the closely related decorative malanggan sculpture displayed at festivals. One object from New Ireland, preserved in a western museum, the so-called "soul-boat", is renowned not least for its impressive size. The figures in the canoe are human in scale but awesomely demonic and inhuman in appearance; as in the uli, significant parts of the body are aggressively emphasized - eyes, teeth and genitalia.

Melanesian Style of Art

New Guinea and the string of islands which surrounds it, have related arts. As the populations of the basin are complex and very mixed, the styles of their statuary provide valuable data for an anthropological classification.

The Swiss ethnologist Felix Speiser has proposed a nomenclature for the styles of the New Guinea basin. But we must remember that we shall often come across the primary two-dimensional style already defined with tribal variations.

To the south-east the first group of styles embraces the Massim district together with the Trobriand Islands. Comparable to the style of the Solomon Islands, it consists of sculpture in ebony or blackened wood, often inlaid with mother-of-pearl or powdered lime. The simple shapes are decorative rather than expressive. The artist's efforts are concentrated on the treatment of the face, hollowed out of the mass, with the nose forming a ridge. This predilection for hollows comes close to both the formulas of the Indian archipelago and those of the stone figures of Easter Island.

In the Massim area and its dependencies, such as the Admiralty Islands, we find large wooden cups of subtle elegance used at chiefs' banquets. The extremely sober decoration of the cups borrowed its motifs from the divine world of birds. In the Admiralty Islands, we see the appearance of the taste for polychrome work peculiar to the basin of New Guinea. Some figures recall the flat primary style, but they are embellished with red, black and white triangles.

The statuary of the Gulf of Papua and the valley of the Purari River, together with the Gulf of Huon, Tami Island, the Torres Strait and a part of Dutch New Guinea around Lake Sentani, forms a second Guinean group with the primary style. However, in addition to the flat figures engraved with white lines, the Gulf of Papua posesses masks in black and white tapa in which the artists' imagination runs riot: enormous eyes and mouth, devouring fangs - figures made to inspire terror. The wood carvings have less dramatic power.
The Sulka of the Gazelle peninsula, in New Britain, have invented fantastic masks which seem to have no terrestrial connection at all. They are immense 'scare-crows' assembled from bamboo, strips of stuck-on bone marrow and waving tapa. On certain days these figures come to life. Naked bodies, dripping with red make-up lead them solemnly round the orchards, whose fertility is bound up with this visit from the spirits. The magical dances, in which the figures wave and nod in movements regulated by the rhythm of wooden gongs, are the great moments in the aesthetic life of the primitives, the most vital and authentic expression of their art.

A third group, in New Guinea, unites the styles of the Sepik River, the Ramu, and, in Dutch New Guinea, those of Geelvink Bay, Humboldt Bay and the south-east (Merauke). Except among the Abelam whose plastic work is 'two-dimensional', shapes in the round predominate here and are freer. Plaques evoking ancestors, architectural ornaments and figures on houses, carved decorations on canoes - the artist's imagination is inspired by all the shapes provided by nature, and these masterful decorations seem like the works of a virtuoso. One of the strangest is undoubtedly the Schnabelstil ('beak style') practised by the tribe of Tchambuli at Speik. The nearby Mundkumor prefer more robust forms, and sometimes achieve a powerful naturalism.

The art of New Britain does not have the profusion of that of the main island. The most striking productions are the gigantic masks of the DukDuk Society, on which the social order rests. This poverty contrasts with the wealth of statuary in New Ireland, where the sculptors exhibit extraordinary virtuosity. In the centre of that island, the Uli figures represent the dead in immense shapes, in strong but subtle colours. In the north, the shapes diminish in size, while retaining the same simplicity. Often they disappear beneath a profusion of leaves, feathers, birds and fish which intermingle like the New Guinean ornaments, submerging the ancestor in their symbolism. Reds and whites, in violent contrast, a few blacks, a touch of blue, add to this confusion. On top of this the gill-covers of the molluscs endow the images with their glassy gaze and a kind of hallucinatory life. These figures are called malanggan, from the name of the feasts at which they are exhibited. Artists, supported by rich patrons who compete for their services, prepare the malanggan in secret. On the feast day, the images are revealed by collapsing part of the fence surrounding them. The crowd admires or criticises them. This 'salon' is a tribute to the deified dead. At it they are represented by dancers in delicately painted masks complete with hair and powerful profiles of supreme gravity. The worship of the dead, the ostentation of the patrons, the talent and rivalry, of the artists, an expressive statuary loaded with mythical symbols, dancers with grandiose masks, the musical sympathetic magic, all contribute to make the malanggan feasts a synthesis of the arts of Melanesia, as also of the circumstances which surround and give birth to them.

Note: Melanesian prehistoric art has close similarities with certain types of Aboriginal Rock Art in Northern Australia. See, for instance, Ubirr rock painting (c.30,000 BCE), Kimberley rock art (c.30,000 BCE) and Bradshaw paintings (c.15,500 BCE). For the oldest art in Australia, see Gabarnmang Rock Shelter Charcoal Drawing (26,000 BCE).


Style in The Transitional Zone

The zone between Melanesia and Polynesia, peopled with representatives from both regions (like Micronesia, which has recently included Malays as well), is poor in art. Its wooden statuary reduces the human to the essential features. The two-dimensional face is akin to Melanesian conceptions, as well as the Polynesian Tonga and Samoan. Of the first-named we know a few small-sized female figures. The face, without relief, is extended into a triangle; the rest of the body, with the exception of the arms, simple flat sticks, seeks to imitate nature. One image of a young girl, half reclining, is a symbol of idyllic Polynesian leisure. Sometimes, the primitive artists, for relaxation, abandon pure creation and imitate what they actually see. In the Santa Cruz Islands, some of which are peopled by black-skinned tribes, others by brown-skinned tribes from the west, the statues are akin to the Tongan style, in spite of their heaviness. Figurines of a similar type, probably modern, appear in the Fiji Islands, where the blood and cultures of the two Oceanic groups mingle.

Triangular faces, noses forming a cross with the eye-brows, the narrow arms of the Tongans, and bodies of extreme spareness characterise the statuary of the Carolines, at Nuku-manu and Takuu. The better-known figures of Nukuor have more relief. The elongated mass of the heads of these Tino recur in certain figurines from Tahiti.

NOTE: Ancient pottery in Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia is usually attributed to the Lapita culture. A form of pottery called Plainware is also found in archaeological sites across the South Pacific, although its connection (if any) with Lapita ceramic art is unclear. To see how Oceanic pottery fits into the evolution of ceramics, see: Pottery Timeline (26,000 BCE - 1900).


The art of Polynesia, the widely scattered Pacific islands from New Zealand to Easter Island, may seem in comparison less vital and more decorative. Ancestor figures and masks are rare; not least because early Christian missionaries completed a thorough and widespread destruction or mutilation of sculpted ancestral deities. But Polynesian joy in creating complex rhythms of surface-patterning finds expression in many different media: from the spectacular featherwork of Hawaii, to the intricately carved wood and greenstone of the New Zealand Maoris - including the "living art" of tattoo. The Maori fascination with curvilinear surface ornamentation was almost obsessive; complex linear patterning is found in the canoed decoration of canoes and of the doorposts and lintels of meeting-houses, and still persists,even if the original vitality appears only rarely in modern work.

Polynesian Style of Art

Let us approach the heart of the Polynesian triangle, from which sailed the tribes who colonised the islands of the South Seas. The Society Islands, the Cook Islands and the Austral Islands, all once in close relationship, provide evidence of related arts.

Here the masters are the carvers of stones for the sacred enclosures for the altars and also for the embankments on which some of the houses stand. Big stone statues are rare. The most massive are those from Raia-vavae.

The stone images at Tahiti, Moorea and Raiatea are seldom as much as three feet tall, the majority barely half that. The shapes, dictated by the block which is merely penetrated by a few notches, verge on indigence. The tiny wooden images are ritual objects or were used to adorn canoes. These figures represent the dead, but the Polynesian religion also represented its higher gods. At Tahiti these are simple symbols. The god of war, Oro, is a fragment of wood the size of a child's arm, covered with a tightly laced network of fine coconut-fibre string (sennit). The scarlet feathers of the red-tailed tropic-bird are attached to it. By contact, they have become images of the god. Finally, all trace of art has evaporated.

At Mangaia, Tane, the patron of artists, is symbolised by an adze, with its blade fixed to a monumental handle. Some scholars see the stylisation of a human figure in the cross-pieces which ornament it. At Rurutu and Raroton-ga, the images of Tangaroa, the god who created the world and men, show an almost human figure, with a cylindrical (Rurutu) or flat trunk, from which humanity emerges like young shoots bursting with sap. The Tangaroa from Rarotonga, in profile, have big elongated eyes with heavy eyelids like their mouths. At Raiavavae, some wooden statues of great rarity exhibit a flat face with features in the form of a cross on minute geometrical masses. The war clubs, and the state oars with round or rectangular motifs, their handles engraved with human figures which are sometimes linear, are once again the most authentic works of art. On the blades we also rediscover the concave bodies and heads in the round of the style of Tahiti or Nukuor.

To the north of the triangle (Hawaiian Islands), a wooden statuary of great size developed towards the 12th century, it is believed, under the influence of Tahiti, with which island the Hawaiians had established relations. Still more ancient sculptures have left coarse stone remains on Necker Island, their faces akin to the primary substratum of Oceanic plastic art. The big Hawaiian figures represent the gods who guard the sanctuaries. The first white visitors made drawings of them. Distorted gestures to inspire fear, the ferocious grimace of the figure-for-eight mouths (recurring in New Zealand) contrast with the static statuary so far met with. Realism was pushed even further, as some recently discovered domestic statuettes prove.

Some figures of plaited rushes, decorated with the orange-red feathers of the tropic-bird, represented the god of war, Kukailimoku, whose terrifying image was carried in battle. Feather-work too, of great refinement, gave the kings splendid cloaks and provided them with headgear like Greek infantry. The Hawaiians also had a liking for plates and dishes and small pieces of furniture with pure lines, made of wood polished and grained with yellow.

At the south-west point of the triangle we find the Maoris of New Zealand. A harsh climate has toughened their character and sharpened their pride. Their somewhat rustic but essentially decorative art is often symbolical. Synthetic shapes are covered with the complicated and delicate arabesques of the Maori spiral possibly derived from the heraldic tattooing (moko) of the warriors. After death, the head, carefully smoked, is preserved among the family treasures. The spiral creates an apparent movement which is sometimes so lifelike that it tires the eye. The carved figures, which rarely have more than two dimensions, are contorted as if to avoid the decoration which invades all the objects, undulating around the portals of the communal houses as well as the prows of the war canoes.

Is it possible to link these Maori ornaments with the ornamentation of the Melanesians? The latter make a sober arrangement on a plane surface of the natural motifs they transform. The Maoris, on the other hand, without actually leaving the plane surface, seem to be constantly escaping from it.

To the south-east the art of the Marquesas confirms the variety of the Polynesians' inspiration; however the variety of media is greater among the black peoples. Like that of the Maoris, the art of the Marquesas is primarily graphic. Tattooing was its purest expression. The statuary is surface carving, touching lightly a very simple original shape. The open-air sanctuaries were peopled with large or small images, in stone or wood, of Tiki, the first man. His face, with its broad eyes, a sabre-slash of a mouth and scrolls for nose and ears, recurs equally on men's skin and on the most insignificant utensils. He has some of the characteristics of that countenance which could be said to typify an art of the Pacific from Asia to Easter Island and sometimes even to Pre-Columbian art of Meso-America.

Easter Island

The Tuamotu atolls on the route to Easter Island have perhaps known no art except that religious poetry in which the recently discovered grandiose and confused personality of Kiho, the greatest of all gods, appears.

At Mangareva (in the Gambier Islands) which contributed to the peopling of Easter Island, wooden images have been found with trunks and limbs imitating nature; they bear the flat face already encountered. Only one, it seems, combines curved and rectangular volumes, an example of those abstract conceptions which often attract the Polynesian sculptors.

At the southern extremity of this region is Easter Island, the Rapa-Nui of modern Tahitians. Its quantities of enormous statues of volcanic breccia were the first revelation of Polynesian megalithic art. Using this material, which is easily carved with stone burins, the Easter Islanders erected more than five hundred images of their dead, with heights varying from nine to forty-eight feet. In the past they stood on the altar of the sanctuaries, which also served as tombs. Teams of specialists worked feverishly to carve these megaliths in a record time of three or four weeks. Brought down the slopes from the workshops, they were dragged to the edge of the ocean by hundreds of men and women.

The artists contributed very few variations to this 'mass-produced type'. They derive from the stele, and only their great narrow masks framed by long ears are more than two-dimensional. The bust, cut off at the navel, bears arms in bas-relief. The face occupies two-sevenths of the height. Shadows contrast strongly with the angular surfaces lit up by the ocean light.

Wood itself is rare and comes from a single species: the Sophora toromiro, with stunted scraggy trunks. Sometimes the sea throws up a floating tree. Thus, in the legends, treasures are always composed of wooden objects. Wooden statuettes, which are quite unlike the monumental statues, represented the dead or spirits. They were in keen demand for exhibition around the sanctuaries on feast days. The works of specialists, some of the oldest have a finish and a delicacy which Cook noticed on his voyage. The best known, called moai kavakava (statues with many sides) by the natives, who still imitate them, represent emaciated and bearded old men with macabre realism. The local version of the god Tane Make Make is ornamented with the beak of an albatross. Other sea birds play an important part in religious life. A being with the head of a sea bird, drawn with a free and accurate line, swarms over the rocks and lava. Hundreds of prehistoric engravings cover as much as several square yards of surface, representing the beings and plants of the island, everyday objects such as canoes, side by side with figures combining animal and human elements. In the hundreds of signs engraved on wooden tablets some authorities think they see writing. (Compare these engravings with Burrup Peninsula rock art in Australia.)

The most important unifying element in Oceanic art remains its 'two-dimensionalism' mainly imposed by a poorly developed technique, and a few cultural factors. This 'primary style' of two-dimensionalism is often shown in the face, but also in the whole figure, and recurs all the way along the migrant route followed by the Oceanians from southern Asia. It is salient proof of the fundamental unity of the arts in Oceania.


In addition to numerous island heritage centres and museums across the Pacific, many museums in Indonesia and Australia contain examples of Oceanic arts and crafts. Such venues include: Fine Art and Ceramic Museum (Museum Seni Rupa dan Keramik) in Jakarta; the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra; the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne; the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) in Adelaide; the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) in Sydney; the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) in Brisbane; and the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) in Perth.

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