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Friday 1 November 2013 10:15am

Past and present in Niuean barkcloth

John Pule and Nicholas Thomas

hiapoThe book

'Hiapo' is the word for barkcloth or tapa in the language of Niue. The aim of this book 'is to reveal the power of a remarkable art, that until now has been obscure to all but a few specialists' – the painted hiapo of Niue Island in central Polynesia.

Most known pieces of hiapo were produced in the mid- to late nineteenth century and are now dispersed, largely in museum collections, all over the world. The authors have worked on this project for a decade, visiting museums, collecting information, travelling to Niue, talking to old people, trying to find out how these paintings were done and who made them. One of the authors, John Pule, has drawn on the art of hiapo for his own paintings and etchings, some of which are included in the book.

In the text, the authors describe their separate encounters with hiapo and offer two perspectives on the art form. Hiapo paintings range from abstract patterns to detailed renderings of plants (from taro to missionaries' sunflowers), people and ships. The use of colour is restricted and the format is often huge, as many cloths were used as bed coverings or tablecloths. Collectively, the paintings offer a window on life in Niue in the second half of the nineteenth century, a time when missionaries, traders and locals were intermingling with increasing frequency.

The illustrations in the book, most of which are in full colour, bring together hiapo from all over the world. This book is the first study of this art form and is a major publication.

Published with the assistance of the University of London.

The authors

JOHN PULE was born in Niue and is a professional artist living in Auckland. He frequently draws on the traditions and mythology of Niue in his work. He is also a poet and novelist. Hauaga: The Art of John Pule, the first book on Pule's art, was published in 2010 to coincide with the first major survey exhibition of John Pule's work, curated by the City Gallery Wellington.

NICHOLAS THOMAS is Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge. He first visited the Pacific in 1984 to research his PhD thesis on the Marquesas Islands. He has since written extensively on art, empire and related themes, and curated exhibitions in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, many in collaboration with contemporary artists. His books include Entangled Objects (1991), Oceanic Art (1995), and Possessions: Indigenous Art/Colonial Culture (1999). He is the co-author ofCook's Sites: Revisiting history (1999, with Mark Adams) and editor of Rauru: Tene Waitere, Maori carving, colonial history (2009) and Hauaga: The Art of John Pule(2010).

Publication details

Hardback, 255 x 190 mm, 160 pages, full colour illustrations, ISBN 978 1 877372 00 1, $59.95


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