The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich reopens on Sunday, May 21 following a major refurbishment and building project, designed by Foster & Partners. Pacific Encounters - Art and divinity in Polynesia 1760-1860, is the launch exhibition. Pacific Encounters runs from Sunday, May 21 to Sunday 13 August. Britain holds the most comprehensive 18th and 19th century Polynesian collections in the world, yet much of this material is little-known and seldom exhibited. Pacific Encounters brings together for the first time important material from collections in Britain and abroad, for the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever mounted on Polynesia.
Presenting 270 rare and extraordinary sculptures, ornaments, textiles and valuables, the exhibition will explore Polynesia during a dynamic period in its history - the era of early contact with European voyagers, missionaries and traders. Constructed from sumptuous materials - feathers, ivory, jade, pearl shell and sharks‚ teeth ˆ many of the objects had important roles to play in Polynesian religion and culture.
They range from massive temple images - temporary embodiments of gods - to chiefly regalia, to objects with highly effective technical functions, for example fish hooks and stone-bladed tools. Polynesians had no metal before European arrival, yet with tools of stone, shell and shark tooth they carved enormous double canoes and major works of art. On display for the first time will be a 4m canoe composed of 45 sections of wood tied together with coconut husk fibre cord - collected in 1767 during the voyage of HMS Dolphin.
The story of the collectors is also told. Who were they, and what motivated their collecting? Included are many artefacts from all three of Captain Cooks voyages (1768-1780), and works collected on the voyages of Captain Bligh, Captain Vancouver (after whom the city is named) and many others. The exceptional collections of the London Missionary Society, held in the British Museum, are also well represented.
Polynesians continue to have a vibrant living culture and this exhibition explores an important part of their history while extending appreciation of one of the world‚s great but little-known art traditions. The exhibition will be shown in both temporary exhibitions spaces, and will also inaugurate the new link exhibition space in the refurbished Sainsbury Centre. The British Museum, from whom some 120 items are being borrowed, is a major partner in the project.
From gorgeous Hawaiian feather cloaks to exquisite Tahitian fish hooks, there will be something in this exhibition for everyone to enjoy. Polynesian art deserves to be widely appreciated, and there is no better place to show it than the Sainsbury Centre. Steven Hooper, exhibition curator.
Sainsbury Centre Director, Nichola Johnson said: We are reopening The Sainsbury Centre with a brilliant exhibition. Much of the material in Pacific Encounters has never been seen before in public. Our status as a university museum has given us the opportunity to create an international ground-breaking exhibition in Norwich, which combines serious academic research with fabulous eye-catching displays.
Pacific Encounters is part of a research project, Polynesian Visual Arts: meanings and histories in Pacific and European cultural contexts‚ sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The exhibition is a British Museum Partnership UK project. British Museum Press will be publishing a fully-illustrated catalogue to coincide with the exhibition.