Series/Portfolio: Noa Noa
Artist: Paul Gauguin (French, Paris 1848–1903 Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands)
Medium: Woodcut printed in color on Japanese paper
Dimensions: block: 8 x 14 in. (20.3 x 35.6 cm)
sheet: 11 1/2 x 18 1/16 in. (29.2 x 45.9 cm)
Credit Line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1936
Accession Number: 36.6.3
This woodcut depicts Tahitian men and women performing the traditional dance known as 'upa 'upa around a bonfire at night. Deemed pagan and obscene due to its sexual suggestiveness, the ritual was banned by Catholic and Protestant missionaries on the island. However, Tahitians continued to perform the ritual in secret, in defiance of colonial authority. Gauguin may have been witness to these dances while in Polynesia.
The formal complexity of the image is the result of three separate printings in olive, ochre and black; additional color was added by hand. The deliberate off-register printing technique gives the print a slightly blurred effect that only enhances its air of mystery and unfathomableness.