Pauls Stradins Museum for history of medicine

Colours of Oceania: Art and Medicine

Small is beautiful – the small islands and atolls of the Pacific Ocean or Oceania as its commonly referred to, stretches from the Strait of Malacca to the coast of the Americas. There are approximately 14 different countries that make up the Oceania region. Society was hierarchical including chiefs, priests, warriors and commoners, who cultivated the land and fished. Ancestry was considered extremely important and genealogies were meticulously remembered. Chiefly families in particular could trace their ancestry back to the gods. Men and women of the many different cultures of these islands created distinctive designs, models and forms inspired from their ancestral lineage and the physical, social and spiritual environment in which their lives unfolded. Many of these creations were an integral part of the rituals that guided the Pacific Islanders through social life, ocean navigation, births, marriages, and ceremonial obligations well before the discovery of the Pacific Islands in the early 1800. Thus although the distances between these island groups can be vast, their inhabitants share a common cultural heritage.

With a long history of colonization by European countries, the islands of Oceania have a rich cultural and historical heritage that draws from both it’s own traditions as well as those of it’s colonial past. The exhibition will feature several artefacts that predate the 20th century. These objects have had a significant impact on the development of modernist art as they were studied and admired by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin and Henry Moore. They also continue to inspire Pacific Island artists, many of whom have produced incredible pieces of art.

A collection of artworks by prominent Pacific Island artist will be displayed at the Paul Stradis Museum of the History of Medicine. Among these works are paintings by Nicolai Michoutouchkine and Aloi Pilioko from Vanuatu. The contemporary style and use of bold colours in their work is an indication of the beauty that derives from their surrounding. Most of the pieces displayed exude a variety of colours and style that evoke the landscape of the Pacific Islands. Amongst the collection is Tapa cloth and is only found in the Oceania region. The style and the motifs on the Tapa Cloth varies from Island to Island, village to village but the use of Tapa is the same around Oceania. Before the discovery of the Pacific Islands in the 1800’s, Tapa was used as clothing and sails for canoes, and different designs on Tapa meant it was used for different occasion. Production of Tapa is labour intensive and is now only used for formal occasions. A huge piece that was gifted by the King of Tonga to a Fijian royal family will also feature in the exhibition.

An important feature in this exhibition is how the people of Oceania survived ailments before being discovered. Most of them had to consult traditional healers and witch doctors to heal ailments and were mainly reliant on herbal medicine to cure them. Circumcision and tattoing were rites of passage to puberty pre missionary days. Cannibalism was also an integral part of the Oceanic people before the missionaries arrived.

The region of Oceania consists of some 14 countries with very different societies and governance systems, but they all have the same cultural heritage.  Some of that heritage will be presented at the “Colours of Oceania: Art and Medicine” exhibition.

This is an international exhibition that has been organised in partnership with the Tapa social development institution and the Pacific Ocean Island Museum of Art.

Additional information

Exhibition on view from 11.03.2016 till 21.05.2016

Tickets prices

  • Pupils: € 0.28
  • Students, seniors: € 0.43
  • Adults: € 0.71