Welcome to Mapping the Arts of the Oceanic World. This website features a set of collaborative projects about Oceanic art and culture undertaken by a team of faculty, visiting artists, museum and library professionals, and students in the course, Arts of Oceania, at Denison University in the spring semesters of 2016 and 2017.

In spring 2016, students created exhibition modules on Polynesian and Melanesian art objects using photographs from digitized museum collections in North America, Europe, and Oceania. Working with the photographed objects, students researched and explored narratives about the social biographies of Oceanic art objects — the maps of their histories and meanings.

In addition to learning about Polynesian and Melanesian art objects, students examined mapping as a process that involves identifying, locating, and representing geographical sites, populations, and cultural productions. Students were committed to addressing the challenges and possibilities of curation and digital curation more specifically. They were especially compelled by the challenge of representing art objects from cultures that are not their own and by the possibilities of using a digital platform to create new conversations about art objects.

In spring 2017, students conducted research for the exhibition, The Art of Ngatu by Robin White and Ruha Fifita: Tradition, Innovation and Community in Polynesia, at Denison University’s Mulberry MIX Gallery. The exhibition, The Art of Ngatu, featured the work of Dame Robin White (New Zealand) and Ruha Fifita (Tonga) who collaborate with groups of women to make painted tapa (beaten bark cloth), called ngatu. White and Fifita describe their ngatu as a hybrid work integrating traditional patterns and design with contemporary imagery and narratives. Their work is characterized by the use of traditional dyes and painting techniques to depict ideas and stories drawn from current ways of living.

Students in Arts of Oceania (spring 2017) researched questions about tapa for the exhibition and wrote short essays based on their research. The essays were displayed in the exhibition (see three sample essays). Their research addressed several aspects of tapa, including its history, its production in women’s collaborative artistic workshops, its transformation in our contemporary global economy, and its relationship to other expressive forms in Oceania. Students also interviewed Dame Robin White while she was in residence at Denison University in April 2017 and Ruha Fifita during a skype session.

The website also features, Markings on Our Skin: An Exhibition about Tatau and Identity in Samoa, curated by Sophia Higginbottom (Denison University, Class of 2017). In this exhibition Higginbottom presents the research she undertook on tatau (traditional tattooing practices in Samoa) in 2016. Project collaborator Marcus Boroughs presents, A Maori Artifact Returns to New Zealand, Reconnecting to its Community of Origin, an essay illustrated with video footage and photographs documenting the (temporary) return of a Maori wahaika from the USA to New Zealand.


Project Collaborators

Students in Arts of Oceania, Spring 2016 Briana Alberghine, Ariel Baez, John Bennet, Nick Bortolani, Alex Chin, Meg Chiumento, Aidan Cronin, Olivia Durham, Gus Evans, Craig Freeland, Gretchen Giltner, Max Howes, Meg Hudnall, Bea Lawson, Shannon McDavid, Kristine McNulty, Yen Anh Nguyen, Casey Rhine, Ryan Roberts, Gracie Ruffin, Kelly West, and Abby Zofchak

Students in Arts of Oceania, Spring 2017 Noah Anderson, Maggie Armstrong, Edric Choi, Wyatt Donnelly, Emma Gamble, Sophia Higginbottom, Christian Keiper, Nick Kerr, Catherine Kosior, Grace Martin, Lelah McCarthy, Will Moore, Michaela Morrison, Madeline Ness, Bella Pivec, Thomas Protzman, Kloby Reddy, Erica Schulz, Monica Starr, Jim Streett, Jane Tull, Bitsy Waters

Joanna Grabski, Professor and Chair, Art History and Visual Culture, Denison University and Project Director
Marcus Boroughs, Exhibition Developer and former Director of Aratoi–Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, New Zealand
Debra Andreadis, Deputy Director, Denison University Libraries
Christian Faur, Director of Collaborative Technologies in the Fine and Performing Arts, Denison University
Gretchen Giltner, Student Editor and Project Manager, Denison University, Class of 2016
Beatrice Lawson, Research Assistant, Denison University, Class of 2017