UCL News


Pacific Pattern

25 November 2005

A book written by two UCL anthropologists about the fibres and fabrics of the Pacific is the subject of a British Museum exhibition, running in the Clore Education Centre at the museum from 1 November-31 December 2005.


'Pacific Pattern', written by Dr Suzanne Küchler and Dr Graeme Were and photographed by renowned New Zealand photographer Glenn Jowitt, explores the history of the Pacific through the flamboyant designs of the islands, incorporated into fibres to create clothing, floor coverings, storage baskets, and numerous other items for everyday life. The book is unique as it features late nineteenth century photographs of the Pacific Islanders and European missionaries, taken from the British Museum archives, alongside Glenn Jowitt's contemporary images of the Pacific Islands as well as photographs of artefacts from the British Museum collections that are rarely seen.

Patterns are woven, bound, knotted, plaited, rubbed or stamped using natural fibres from local plant resources, and the raw materials used are richly symbolic of the renewal and the reproduction of life. The book draws on the arts of many of the different islands, including those of Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea amongst others.

With the colonisation of the Pacific Islands in the 19th century, many aspects of the indigenous culture were destroyed or repressed, but fibre arts survived the process of colonisation because they were not always taken seriously by colonials, explained Dr Were: "When European missionaries came to the Pacific islands in the Victorian era, they destroyed the idols of the Pacific Islanders as they were considered to be a threat to Christian ideals. The missionaries however saw domesticity as safe, and so did not take the same steps to destroy the indigenous fabrics, baskets and other 'domestic' items, even though these often expressed Pacific ideas about ways of being."

At the same time, contemporary fibre arts in the Pacific, such as recent forms of clothing, also express elements of what the Pacific Islanders absorbed and made their own from colonial culture.

The exhibition in the Clore Education Centre displays Glenn Jowitt's contemporary images of the Pacific Islands.

Image: Samoan tattooing designs covering waist, buttocks and thighs, photographed by Glenn Jowitt