Oceania (200-1500)

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Borobudur temple
Bodhisattvadevi Prajnaparamita
Easter Island:
Birdmen cave drawings /petroglyphs
Hoa Hakananai’a
Tukuturi at Rano Raraku

Australian aboriginal:
Dot and cave paintings
Torres Straits art

New Zealand Māori:
Tattoos and kōwhaiwhai

Polynesia was influenced by the Lapita culture (1600-500 BCE), which included parts of the western Pacific and reached as far east as Tonga and Samoa. However much of Polynesia, like the islands of Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Easter Island, had only been recently settled by indigenous peoples. The most famous Polynesian art forms are the Moai (statues) of Rapa Nui/Easter Island, and their birdman cult. Polynesian art is ornate and intended to contain supernatural power or mana, that could change the world

The Medang Kingdom was a Javanese-Hindu–Buddhist kingdom that flourished between the 8th and 11th centuries. It was based in Central Java, and later in East Java. Established by King Sanjaya, the kingdom was ruled by the Sailendra dynasty. the kingdom seems have relied heavily on agriculture, especially extensive rice farming, and later also benefited from maritime trade. According to foreign sources and archaeological findings, the kingdom seems to have been well populated and quite prosperous. The kingdom developed a complex society, had a well developed culture, and achieved a degree of sophistication and refined civilization. A classical Javanese art and architecture saw temples dot the landscape. The most notable of the temples were Kalasan, Sewu, Borobudur and Prambanan, all quite close to present-day city of Yogyakarta. The kingdom dominated its region, controlling Sumatra, Bali, southern Thailand, Indianized kingdoms of the Philippines, and the Khmer in Cambodia.

Australia and New Zealand had its indigenous art – aboriginal and Māori (work in progress).


Image source: metmuseum.org

Polynesia: This enigmatic head and torso is one of a group of eleven stone figures discovered in 1894 on Necker Island, a barren outcrop of rock 300 miles northwest of the Hawai’ian islands. Necker was once inhabited by Polynesian settlers who built temple platforms and carved stone figures from the local basaltic rock, but the island was abandoned several centuries prior to European contact. It is said to be 9th-11th c but stated with little confidence.
Java: Borobudur, the largest single Buddhist structure in the world, one of the monuments constructed by the Sailendran of the Medang Kingdom. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The 7th c temple consists of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. It is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa.

The top image provides a panoramic view of the temple. The middle image is of the upper terrace, showing an exposed Buddha. The bottom image is of a relief showing Queen Maya in a horse carriage hurrying back to Lumbini to give birth to Prince Siddhartha Gautama.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Java: Bodhisattvadevi Prajnaparamita is the buddhist goddess of transcendental wisdom. This is a 13th c statue of her from East Javanese art. The statue was discovered in Cungkup Putri ruins near Singhasari temple. Prajnaparamita is a goddess of high standing in Mahayana tantric Buddhismm she is considered the sakti, or consort, of the highest Buddha and symbolises perfect knowledge. The statue is the best-known ancient Indonesian artwork and praised for its combination of aesthetic perfection and spirituality.

She is on show at the National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta.
Easter Island: Rapu Kau (aka Easter Island), because of its deep Pacific location was
previously known as Te pito o te henua (the navel of the world).

These cave drawings were found at the foot of Rano Kau, on Rapu Kau. They are described as Tangata Manu (literally Birdmen), figures that are half man and half bird, connected with cult events. The cave’s local name is the ‘cave of the maneaters’.

The lower image is a petroglyph of a birdman, also from the island.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Easter Island: The lower image is at Ahu Akivi, these are the furthest inland of all the ahu and are the only mo’ai that face the ocean.
Easter Island: The Hoa Hakanana’ia, or Breaker of Waves’, a basalt mo’ai on display in the British Museum’s Wellcome Trust Gallery, London.

Considered to be the most beautiful and the most venerated idol of the ancient islanders. This statue is finely carved and its back is decorated with beautifully carved motifs. These motifs were also accented by red paint against the statue’s white background.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Easter Island: Tukuturi at Rano Raraku is the only kneeling moʻai and one of the few made of red scoria.
Australia: Aboriginals were producing cave paintings, drawings and petroglyphs for tens of thousands of years in Australia. The main genres are classified as Murujuga in Western Australia, Panaramitee rock art in Central Australia and, unimaginatively, Sydney in New South Wales.

The first image shows one of the characteristic forms, the use of dots.

The second image is from Arnhem Land in the Northern Teriitory, where some 570 Maliwawa paintings have been discovered in 87 rock shelters. This image uses a popular subject, the macropods, kangaroos and wallabies. It was found in the Namunidjbuk clan estate of the Wellington Range.

Image source: theculturetrip.com

Image source: theguardian.com

Image source: theconversation.com

Image source:

Image source: rebeccahossack.com

Australia: The Torres Straits have a group of 274 islands between Australia and Papua New Guinea. They have been inhabited for 2,500 years. The first European arrived in 1605, though Cook was much later, in the 1770s. Today, only 6,800 Torres Straits islanders live on the islands, 42,000 have moved to the mainland.
Deeply influenced by the ocean the islanders art has featured turtles, fish, dugongs, sharks, seabirds and saltwater crocodiles, as these are considered totemic beings. These three images are modern versions of the genre and suggest the dot style was adopted here too.
New Zealand: The Māoris used themselves as a canvas. But their tattoos or tā moko were to show their family history, social status and prestige, in many cases these would commence in adolescence as a rite of passge. However they also carry spiritual and mythical meaning.

The lower image is an example of kōwhaiwhai, traditional Māori painted scroll patterns. Some attribute the origins of kōwhaiwhai to rock art, others place the origins with whakairo (carving in wood or bone). Colours used in kōwhaiwhai are traditonally red, black and white. These were made using natural pigments like iron-rich powdered stone for red, charcoal for black, and white clay for white, mixed with shark oil to produce the paint

Image source: courses.lumenlearning.com

Image source: my.christchurchcitylibraries.com

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