The Oceania Exhibition – Review

This week, the I, Science Culture Club went to the Royal Academy of Arts to visit two fantastic exhibitions. As usual, we were able to find science everywhere!

Headdress shown at the Oceania Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts

The Oceania exhibition takes you on a voyage to the Pacific over a period of 500 years. The curators have brought together over 200 objects, from huge canoes and giant carvings of gods, to delicate jewellery and magnificent headdresses. Many of the objects were collected by European explorers including Captain James Cook, and whilst the visitors are reassured that the objects in the exhibition were given willingly by the Islanders in exchange for offerings including food and gold, it is important to remember that these weren’t the only traces that were left. It was brave of the RA to dedicate a whole room to the destructive aspect of the European ‘discovery’ of Oceania, the most severe being the rapid spread of sexually transmitted diseases. These caused extensive infertility and contributed, along with other disease to which the Islander population had no immunity such as measles and tuberculosis, to the catastrophic depopulation that many islands and archipelagos suffered over the course of the nineteenth century. This emphasis, however, certainly does not detract from the dazzling and diverse art of the region of Oceania, and reminds us of the importance of not ignoring the grizzlier aspects of history.

The Oceania exhibition runs until 10th December 2018 at the Royal Academy of Arts, W1J 0B

Banner image: Royal Academy of Arts, Wikipedia

Madeleine Openshaw is studying for a MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London

 

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