Power and Aesthetics: Traditional Life in Micronesia

Power and Aesthetics: Traditional Life in Micronesia
May 12, 2009 - June 6, 2010
Linden-Museum Stuttgart, Germany

Original title: “Südsee-Oasen: Leben und Überleben im West-Pazifik” (“South Seas Oasis - Life and Survival in the Western Pacific”). Global warming and the international debate on climatic changes have once and again drawn attention to the small, low-lying islands in the Pacific and particularly to Micronesia. This, the hundreth anniversary of the legendary South Seas Expedition by the Hamburg Museum in 1909/10, the growing awareness of the wealth of cultural achievements of the past and the more active stance to at least preserve knowledge about them by Micronesian islanders today has motivated the Linden-Museum to stage the first comprehensive exhibition on Micronesian cultures in its history. The exhibition contains three separate but interconnected parts.

“Making a living” presents the region almost unknown to the wider German public today. Information on atoll formation and the ecological aspects of riffs as “rainforests of the Seas” will introduce the specific environment of low reef islands and show the strategies used by different cultures to sustain a living and use the “products” of the seas as protein source and for tools.

“To other islands and beyond” refers to the original settlement of the region and the strategies developed to preserve existence despite recurrent climatic threats, particularly in boatbuilding and navigation. A full-size-fishing-canoe and models of seagoing as well as inter lagoon canoes and the relevant implements will demonstrate the construction principles of traditional canoe building and the forms of blue sea sailing. The navigational methods – the use of the star compass and of wave patterns – will be discussed, the Stuttgart observatory will present the South Seas Sky so intensely studied by Micronesian navigators from mid-January onwards. The connection of boatbuilding and navigation to the realm of the gods and spirits will be documented by weather charms and shell trumpets, without which the “men of the sea” could not be successful in controlling storms and clouds. Objects from the old collections will here “work together” with film sequences documenting rites presently conducted that demonstrate ongoing traditions despite the major changes that have occurred within the last hundred years and allow a glimpse at what it means to travel on an oceangoing canoe.

“Power and Aesthetics” is the title of the third exhibition part, which draws from the wealth of Micronesian objects in the Linden-Museum Stuttgart and European collections.
Emphasis is placed on the artistic traditions of both high and low islands. While interpretations and world views are specific, together – and in their different expressions – they mediate the shared aesthetic of formal reduction, careful executed design and powerful presence. While this is true for every day objects like Pandanus pounders (Marshall Islands), perfectly shaped and inlayed bowls (Palau) or intricately worked fishhooks, it is particularly strong in the examples of figurative sculpture. The dilukai figures gracing the gables of traditional Palau bai, the stories “written” on its planks or the gods figures of stone, the bird sculptures of Yap and the spiked weather charms of its Outer Islands, Mortlock Islands masks or the tino- figures of Nukuoro, all testify to an aesthetic that is specific and in its reduction global at the same time. They are symbols of the world of gods, ancestors and spirits, as are the gods houses used for offering or healing on Palau, the stylized double hulled canoes hung up in the boat houses on Chuuk, the flower wrath still used on an every day base which will please the spirits by its scent or the forms made from young coconut fonds used in divination. The intricate stripes of woven belts and cloth from Kosrae and the finely woven machi
cloth from the Outer Islands attest to the high quality of womens’ art as do the plaited clothing mats from the Marshall Islands. They echo the graphic designs of the Trukese dance poles and the dance paddles from Pohnpei as well as abstracted decoration on bowls and food tables, canoes and communal houses. The traditional “art of war” finally is demonstrated by the curasses of Kiribati and the very specific weapons strutted with haifish teeth.

Each class of objects will be presented in different variations as collected during the German period and before, the revival of traditional skills will be indicated by contemporary counterparts or through film/photo. The social systems and the hierarchical clan structures of the island cultures will be demonstrated through the media of local currency and exchange items as well as a look at the larger sawai-system and other inter island trade and exchange relations. The fascinating array of ornaments attests to status differences as well as to the many feasts that celebrate individual live stages and communal highlights. Exchange, food presentations and dance performance – shown in film sequences – will add colour and live to the presented objects. Architectural forms documented in background photographs added by models help to uncover the traditional meaning of place and of the perceived virtual landscape which on all Micronesian islands is constructed of past and present, the living and the dead, microand macro cosmos.

European museums and collections:
Etpison Museum (Palau)
WAM Boatbuilding Program (Majuro, Marshall Islands)
Micronesian Seminar (Pohnpei)
International Year of the Reef
Pacific Year of Climate Change
Traditional Navigation Society (Colonia, Yap)
Institut für den Wissenschaflichen Film (Göttingen)
Carl-Zeiss-Planetarium Stuttgart
International Anthropologists and photographers

Stiftungen Landesbank Baden-Württemberg
Gesellschaft für Erd- und Völkerkunde zu Stuttgart e.V.
Hapag Lloyd Kreuzfahrten
Maritim Hotel Stuttgart
Bononimun GmbH

Südsee-Oasen: Leben und Überleben im Westpazifik
208 pages, € 29,90
Order: phone +49.711.2022-425 / shop@lindenmuseum.de

Linden-Museum Stuttgart
Hegelplatz 1
D-70174 Stuttgart / Germany
phone: ++49.0711.2022-3
fax: ++49.0711.2022-590

Einladung_suedsee-oasen_low.pdf567.31 KB
Pressemitteilung Suedsee-Oasen.pdf56.31 KB