Varilaku – Pacific arts from the Solomon Islands at the NGA

johnboy 18 February 2011

The National Gallery is giving warning that next week they’re starting up an exhibition of art from the Solomon Islands:

Before World War II there was a period of peace in the Solomon Islands beginning with the 1893 establishment of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. Prior to this era, particularly in the Western Solomon Islands, the cultural practice of head-hunting aggressively expanded through the introduction of firearms from traders beginning in the 1860s and 1870s. Within this period of expansive indigenous warfare and fledgling Western involvement, missionaries struggled to spread the word of Christianity and the protectorate administration established its authority through the shock and awe tactics of punitive action.

It is this era of history for the Solomon Islands—distinguished by the great changes bought about by missionary influence on Kastom practices in the 1890s to the coming of Japanese and American military powers in the 1940s—that the works are drawn from. Each work was selected from Australian collections: Queensland Museum, Australian Museum, Museum Victoria, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, as well as less well-known collections such as that of the remarkable South Sea Islands Museum. Through Australia’s long relationship with the Solomon Islands a surprising number of cultural arts have found their way into our museums.

Aspects of both beauty and aggression can be found in the selected works with each surprisingly connected in many ways. In Solomon Islands art certain physical traits were markedly depicted in sculpture. The exaggeration of the nose into a narrow, lineal form with an upwardly pointing top and the reduction of lips into a thin line were but two admired features.

Well that’s a Sunday morning sorted for me then.

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