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Exhibitions/ Atea: Nature and Divinity in Polynesia

Atea: Nature and Divinity in Polynesia

At The Met Fifth Avenue
November 19, 2018–October 27, 2019

Related Publication

Representing a new phase in scholarship, the winter 2019 Bulletin focuses on some thirty exceptional works of Polynesian art.

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Exhibition Overview

This exhibition celebrates the creative ingenuity of Polynesian artists who drew from the natural world to give material expression to their understanding of the divine. Drawn from American collections and The Met's own holdings, the exhibition showcases some thirty works—figural sculpture, painted barkcloth, rare featherwork, and more—dating from the late eighteenth to the nineteenth century. The presentation offers visitors an opportunity to understand a core principle of Pacific art: the divine is not abstract but very much alive in nature.

Atea is a Polynesian cosmological term that refers to the moment when it was believed that light first sparked forth after many eons of thick, engulfing darkness, resulting in the birth of the first generation of gods. Across Polynesia, ritual artifacts were created for the powerful chiefs who descended from these gods and who, as political and religious leaders, were imbued with the spiritual essence (mana) of their forbears. Prestige items such as feather cloaks and headdresses reinforced their status and reputation and asserted genealogical connections with their divine ancestors. These spectacular works illustrate the vitality of the natural world and highlight the ways in which Polynesian elites strategically channeled its material potency to enhance their own spiritual efficacy.

Accompanied by a Bulletin.

Featured Media


Opening Ceremony—Speeches


Opening Ceremony—Performances

"Fascinating" —New Yorker

The Met's quarterly Bulletin program is supported in part by the Lila Acheson Wallace Fund for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, established by the cofounder of Reader's Digest.

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in

Five Things to Know about Atea

View of the entrance to an exhibition about Polynesian art from the 19th century

What makes this a must-see exhibition? Prepare for your visit with this introduction to the show's themes and artworks.

Exhibition Objects

Honorific Chants for Hawai'ian Gods

Presented in the exhibition gallery, this chant invokes two pairs of principal gods (akua) of Hawai'i: first, Ku, who is associated with governance and warfare, and his counterpart Lono, who brings the rains that encourage fertility; and second, Kāne, usually associated with the land, and Kanaloa, who presides over the ocean. Polynesian gods are not easily classifiable and are inherently multiple. The four in this chant derive from earlier deities found in Tahiti and Tonga who are known by similar names: Tu and Rongo, and Tane and Ta'aroa (Tonga: Tangaloa).

Recorded on June 11, 2018, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, by Samuel M. 'Ohukani'ōhi'a Gon, III, Marques Hanalei Marzan, Anne Lokomaika'i Lipscomb, and Marie Ke'alohilani Wong

Ritual dish (Daveniyaqona), early 19th century. Fiji. Wood, 12 3/4 x 7 3/4 x 2 in. (32.4 x 19.7 x 5.1 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, 2017 Benefit Fund, Gordon Sze, MD, The Richman Family Foundation, and Steven Kossak Gifts, Andrea Bollt Bequest, in memory of Robert Bollt Sr. and Robert Bollt Jr., and Ruddock Foundation for the Arts Gift, 2018 (2018.433)