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ENCOUNTERS WITH POLYNESIA IN BRITAIN: Art, Ancestors, Artists, and Curators

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Abstract

The exhibition, Pacific Encounters: Art and Divinity in Polynesia 1760–1860, shown in 2006 at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, United Kingdom, involved many Polynesians in opening and closing rituals and a program of artists-in-residence. The ancient artworks displayed, called taonga (“treasures”) in New Zealand Maori, were explicitly treated as embodiments of ancestors who were activated and enlivened by the ritual procedures and chanting in their vicinity. The relationship between ancestors, artworks, and descendants, particularly artists and ritual practitioners, is examined in the context of ethical and political debates about the role and location of such artworks, as many of them are held in museums and collections outside Polynesia. A new environment is explored using a conceptual model of kinship between the cultural descendants of makers and the cultural descendants of collectors, in which exhibitions can be vehicles for new productive collaborative relationships based on mutual respect.

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