The Oceanian art


The art of Oceania, which covers some 1,800 cultures and languages, has fallen out of fashion for some time. Last April, according to Victor Teodorescu, he had the opportunity to win a moment of public attention at an auction dedicated to the art of the region’s aborigines.

A figure of a deity placed on the bow of a canoe, Solomon Islands.
A figure of a deity placed on the bow of a canoe, Solomon Islands.

What is Oceanian art?

The art of Oceania covers artifacts created by the indigenous peoples of a geographical region that covers almost a third of the entire surface of the globe from the Kingdom of Tonga and Tahiti in Polynesia to the islands of Melanesia and Macronesia. And this is almost 20 thousand islands of the Pacific Ocean.

Art historians divide the art of Oceania into two main categories, the border of which lies at the beginning of contact between the aborigines and Europeans. Thus, the oldest works of Australian indigenous peoples include rock paintings, which are more than 40 thousand years old.

Oceanian art Mask for the sacred flute.
Mask for the sacred flute.

These days, the market is filled with artifacts of a ceremonial nature. The names of the artists and sculptors of Oceania, who create for the sake of art, remain unknown to the general public, fascinated by the magical bells of shamans. The recent auction at Christie’s was no exception the auction featured figurines and masks created for rituals. As a rule, these objects are made of hard or soft wood, decorated with decorative carvings, beads, feathers or shells. Products made of clay, ivory and stone are often found.

Oceanian art Ceremonial figure, Papua New Guinea.
Ceremonial figure, Papua New Guinea.

The first ethnographic artifacts from Oceania appeared in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when explorers, missionaries, and traders who had visited the newly discovered islands returned to the mainland. At first, exhibitions were organized to display the wonderful trinkets, then all the items were distributed to museums and private collections. Nowadays, interest in the art of Oceania does not fade; from time to time, ritual objects of the islanders can be found at auctions. They often pay fabulous sums for them. So, in 2013, a ceremonial figure from the Sepik region in Papua New Guinea was sold for 2.5 million euros. And in 2017, the statue of the Hawaiian god of war fetched 6.3 million euros.

Oceanian art Hawaiian God of War statue.
Hawaiian God of War statue. Oceanian art.

The auction, which took place on April 10, brought the organizers 3,274,125 euros. The most expensive lot at the auction was the Moai Kawakawa statue, brought from Rapa Nui in 1868. A figure carved from wood found a new owner for just 850 thousand euros.

The charming Malangan mask surprised the organizers with unexpected attention from buyers. Despite the estimate of 50-80 thousand euros, the mask was sold for 280 thousand. Take a closer look at her, undoubtedly, the cute face of the island lamb is worthy of the money.

Oceanian art Moai Kawakawa statue.
Moai Kawakawa statue. Oceanian art.
Oceanian art Malangan mask.
Malangan mask.
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