This exhibition reveals the enormous range and quality of artworks made in Fiji over the last two centuries, especially the nineteenth century, and highlights the skills and creative adaptability of the artists and craftspeople who made these remarkable objects. Compared with other Pacific Island groups, Indigenous Fijians produced the greatest variety of artworks—including sculpture in wood and ivory, textiles, pottery, and basketry—distinguished by skillful execution and imaginative design. All were made in the context of Fijian daily or spiritual life, centering on honor and respect and observing the highest standards of craftsmanship.
The Republic of Fiji consists of an archipelago of more than three hundred islands; around one-third are permanently inhabited. South of the equator and more than one thousand miles north of New Zealand, Fiji’s environment is rich, with heavy rainfall in the southeast of the largest island, Viti Levu, and drier weather in the west and north. Fertile soils on most islands provide ample food crops, while the lagoons of extensive reef systems supply fish and shellfish.
It is a bountiful environment, which, as in most places in the world, is under pressure from human and natural causes, such as deforestation, mangrove clearance, and overfishing in Fijian and adjacent waters by overseas fishing boats. Global warming, sea level rise and erosion, and natural disasters such as tropical cyclones, pose challenges to present and future generations.
The local environment produced the majority of materials represented in the exhibition, including a wide variety of hard and soft timber for housing, canoes, and weapons; plant materials for textiles, mats, roofing, ropes, and bindings; clay, bamboo, and coconuts for containers; and shells and other marine materials for adornments. In the nineteenth century, highly valued sperm whale teeth were obtained from carcasses stranded on reefs or by exchange with Tongans and Europeans. Fiji is notable in the Pacific as a country that has maintained many of its cultural traditions.