Essay on Art of Pacific Island

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How the Exhibit “Spirits and the Headhunters” is presented in Bower Museum

Bower’s museum was founded by the City of Santa Ana via a donation from Charles and Ada Bowers in 1963. It is the largest museums in the Orange County and one of the best in California. The museum is regarded as a cultural center with excellence. Further, the museum is greatly honored by the community as it is seen to cater even for children art educational programs. It has successfully been accredited by the American Alliance of Museums where the museum receives 5% honor. The “Art of the Pacific Island” for instance shares outstanding traditional works of art many of which replicate the musical orientation and dance of the people of Pacific.

The “Spirit and Headhunter" art exhibition showcases an elaborate and different perspectives of the cultural dynamics New guinea people in addition to the dissimilar Pacific Island which was curated by Chris Rainer. The museum focuses on Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia which are collectively referred to as Oceania .The region comprises of ethnographically dissimilar cultural background merged by a robust association through fishing and a multifaceted thoughts on oceanic steering. The ability of the different cultures to co-exist has enhanced cultural exchanges and preservation through engagement in similar activities.  This new-found anthropological focus to chronological development has been able to birth cultures in stadia not simply of structural instructions but similarly in arrangements that represent chaos, war and emergence.

The common agenda of the exhibition showcases communism in spite of diverse backgrounds with people travelling vast distances amid landmasses through “ocean surges, trade airstreams, and stars which led them in the sunset”. The ability of people in the island to migrate to other regions spread different practices such as head hunting in New Guinea to New Zealand. The exquisite masterworks from the three major regions are showcased, specifically the artistic traditions and infusion of everyday and ritual life of people.

The presentation of materials includes visually magnificent world of peoples ancient objects for instance beautiful shells and feather currency, items related to the mysterious house of men in the   Sepik river, weapons of war fare, masks, magic figures and tools, the most precious of human trophies, seagoing trade routes related objects and above all finely crafted feast bowls (Bower’s museum). The “slit drums” presented in this exhibition for example showcases a smaller drum shaped and ornamented with the theme of a crocodile reflected as spiritual since its tones reflect the divine expression of the dynasties. The presentation that stood out was the aesthetic component. Different colour components used in objects gave out the actual verses the real brings out the mood whereas the use of neutral colours such as black and white indicated imagination or past memory.

The major concern here is the introduction of ancient material (Salvage paradigm) into the exhibition art specifically Aboriginal objects and the reconstruction of the history of the people of pacific island. Whereas different cultures may have varied beliefs concerning respect for the individuals who passed on, historicists believe that those with peculiar features facing extinction be subjected to preservation. Salvage paradigm reflects on the desire to maintain authenticity of objects from different changes overtime. This is not only found in ethnographic writings but also in already collected art of the world. The presence of these preserved prehistoric materials showing flashes of rapture in the galleries does not limit the interrogation of the aesthetic assumption of the museum art. Constant conflict between the western conception of Aboriginal creation of historic pieces and art is influenced by the western categorization. To foster accuracy in findings, artifacts of salvage paradigm have gone through reconstruction while museums specializing on art have focused further on modern-day artists using media and execution style that fits easily in the present collections as compared to the exhibition of antique objects.

The exhibition reveals an exquisite area of isolated land and individuals featuring masterworks greater 150 of prestige and power. The materials displayed include “larger-than-life masks, items allied to  the  house of men of the reticent Sepik River, magical pictures and spiritualist tools, spectacular-crafted personal adornments, weapons of warfare, stunning shell and feather currency, masterful-crafted feast bowls and the greatest treasure of human medals reserved in vengeance and reverence” (Houston Museum of Natural Science 1). The objects were arranged in a manner that displayed their formal properties. For instance the realistic photo of the headhunter was set in a context that it would bring out the cultural context.

The information revealed majorly concerns the roots of rites and customs of pre-historic man implanted in the populations of this region. It displays the day to day activities and rites of passage of the people of Pacific taking into consideration the existing cultural diversity. The exhibition featured ritual, traditional and religious uses of the objects that are almost similar to other cultures in the west. The visitors here in Bower experience an explicit adventure as they journey through the precious materials in their original form together with photographs and images from the curator. They get to have a sense of feeling of connection with the ancestral world though their spirits.

Throughout the exhibition several thoughts on how the intricate sense of art is pooled together with the aspect of diverse humanity of the pacific region which is greatly implanted in every artifact exhibited. The arrangement brings out historical chronologies and their rich heritage. Particularly the “Art of the Pacific Islands” symbolizes the tools used in the world of the spirit. The artifacts connect symbolically the people to the life after, where our inner being is called to connect with, with the hope of appeasing and being in the common cadre with the spirit kingdom. Curator- Rainer reiterates that the tools allow people to survive in an equilibrium state with the world. He further says that Pacific is a reminder of the world of our ancestors, a region where the spirits of the forests and oceans remain in our prehistoric souls.

I believe the differences in presentation that is deeply rooted in the cultural perspective of the people in the western region that makes representation in other categories function within a savage mode. The western representation basically is geared towards the past as well as the necessity that the subject matter comes from the region. The skewedness towards the past aim at relishing what the past represents in this case an earlier   mode of life hence the inset of salvage paradigm. Conversely non-western traditional and creative works are associated with interrelated ethnic structures of the world devoid of necessarily being swallowed in it. Indigenous organizations create pasts instead of merely complying with historical contexts.

August 01, 2023


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