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Experience Atua: the Gods of Polynesia at the National Gallery

Jun 9, 2014  ·  2 min read

By Benjamen Judd

Maybe it’s winter season making us a little more soul hungry, but we are loving the, shall we say, more spiritually nourishing exhibitions that the National Gallery of Australia are currently hosting such as Atua: Sacred Gods from Polynesia.

Ancient Polynesia remains one of the great mysteries of human migration. Groups of people sailing on double-hulled canoes eventually made their way out from the edges of the Western Pacific and found islands in the middle of the ocean, thousands of kilometres away. And despite this rather large segregation of tribes and groups as they explored the surface of the earth and resettled on various islands, their culture, language and ancient religion remained relatively unchanged even as they developed individual national identities.

For its new exhibition Atua: sacred gods from Polynesia, the National Gallery of Australia has negotiated loans from more than 30 museum collections around the world. The British Museum is lending unique Hawaiian god figures and the Kunstkamera in St Petersburg is lending their precious Easter Island bird man. The Vatican Ethnological Museum is lending their great god Tu from Mangareva. Museums in Zurich, Geneva, and Paris are all lending their prized Polynesian pieces.

The exhibition explores the relationship between atua and art, between spirits and sculpture, between gods and priests, between women and men. It looks at some of the most unique works of art in the Polynesian world and tries to make sense of an enduring mystery surrounding religious objects and their association with belief in gods.

This is a beautiful collection of historic artefacts and artworks that capture the spirit of a people that still remain a mystery to modern day historians and archeologists – and also happen to be some of our closest neighbours. Make sure you set aside a day to take a look at the spiritual history of one of the most beautiful cultures in the world.

Atua: Sacred Gods from Polynesia is currently showing at the National Gallery of Australia until August 3 2014.

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