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Adorning the World: Art of the Marquesas Islands

Kjellgren, Eric, with Carol S. Ivory (2005)

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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (2)
Adorning the World: Art of the Marquesas Islands

Located in the South Pacific some eight hundred miles northeast of Tahiti in French Polynesia, the Marquesas first became widely known in the West as the setting of Herman Melville's first novel Typee, based on the writer's personal experiences on the islands after he jumped ship from the American whaler Acushnet in 1842. Today, the Marquesas are perhaps best known as the final home and resting place of artist Paul Gauguin, whose later works often include imagery inspired by Marquesan sculpture and designs. Long before Gauguin ever painted there, however, the Marquesas were a world adorned. Known for its elegant stylization of the human form and intricately decorated surfaces, Marquesan art encompassed a remarkable diversity of materials and forms. From mundane items to sacred images of gods and ancestors, artists richly embellished virtually every type of object they made. Art in the Marquesas was created to honor the archipelago's diverse deities and ancestors, decorate the bodies of its people, and adorn the objects employed in daily activities. It pervaded virtually every area of sacred and secular life.