Victoria University academic curates major exhibition in London

Victoria University of Wellington's Senior Lecturer in Art History, Dr Peter Brunt has co-curated the United Kingdom's first major show to explore Oceanic art, at London's Royal Academy of Arts.

Dr Peter Brunt
Photograph of Dr Peter Brunt

Oceania celebrates the art of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, encompassing the vast Pacific region from New Guinea to Easter Island, Hawaii to New Zealand. The exhibition brings together around 200 exceptional works from public collections in British, European and New Zealand museums and spans over 500 years of art.

Some of the historic objects in the show have remained unseen in the stores of European museums for more than a century.

The art of Oceania is Dr Brunt’s area of expertise and he has been working on the exhibition with Professor Nicholas Thomas, Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge since 2013.

“The opportunity to create this exhibition is an extraordinary privilege,” Dr Brunt says.

“I have visited dozens of museums and storerooms in Europe, which hold amazing treasures from our region. What you realise is that they are not only carriers of our stories from the past, but remain meaningful for our relationships with Britain and Europe, now and in the future.”

The show, which opens in September, will be staged in the 250th anniversary year of the Royal Academy of Arts, which was founded in 1768—the same year Captain James Cook set out on his first Endeavour expedition.

Highlights of the exhibition include the 14th century wooden Kaitaia carving, excavated in 1920, one of the oldest known objects to have been found in New Zealand; an 18th century Heva Tupapau—or Chief Mourner’s costume—from Tahiti, one of only six known examples in existence; as well as one of the stars of the 2017 Venice Biennale—the vast panoramic video In Pursuit of Venus [infected], by New Zealand multi-media artist Lisa Reihana, charting the arrival of the British in the South Pacific and its consequences.

A documented but previously unseen object from the British Museum is an enormous wooden feast bowl from the Solomon Islands, which has the head of a crocodile holding a carved human head in its teeth.

Dr Brunt will attend the opening of Oceania in late September 2018. Following its run at the Royal Academy of Arts, the exhibition will travel to the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, in February 2019.