Oakland Museum of California Presents Major Exhibition Focusing on Historic and Contemporary Pacific Cultures and Peoples
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(Oakland, CA)—Community members of Pacific cultures in California will provide strikingly relevant voices and contemporary context to rarely exhibited historical and ritual objects and newly commissioned works of art in Pacific Worlds, a new exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), on view May 30, 2015 through January 3, 2016. Presented to coincide with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) in San Francisco, the exhibition examines the vibrancy and rich cultural practices of the Pacific that continue to thrive in California today.
Turning the familiar idea of California as the western frontier on its head and re-positioning the State as “the East Coast of the Pacific”, Pacific Worlds examines the deep and many-layered histories of this region’s interactions with the Pacific, and explores the on-going connections and intersecting experiences of Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians, along with Filipinos, Native Californians, and American collectors and colonists. Weaving together objects and ephemera from the Museum’s collections with contemporary California Pacific Islander artwork and community voices, Pacific Worlds presents Californian identity as tied to and shaped by the histories, peoples, and geography of the Pacific Islands. The Museum’s exceptional Pacific collections have before never been shown on a large scale. Most of the artifacts were collected by an Oakland dentist, John Rabe, who traveled the Pacific in the 1880s and 1890s, doing dentistry and buying and trading dental work for artifacts. Other items were brought to California by naval personnel stationed in the Pacific.
The cultures and peoples featured in the exhibition include those of Tonga, Samoa, Hawai’i, Guam, Fiji, Maori, Palau, and the Caroline Islands. Pacific Worlds focuses on the way historic collections continue to speak to the cultural practices of Pacific Islanders in California today. For example, the Museum’s 25-foot historic outrigger canoe from Manus, Papua New Guinea will be displayed alongside a discussion of contemporary canoe reclamation among many Pacific cultural groups.
The exhibition will explore the Pacific as a region that includes California, focusing on Pacific history, the role of collectors in the region, and the role of Pacific people at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The majority of the exhibit focuses the experiences of Pacific Islanders in California and how they maintain cultural practices including dance and music, “foodways,” fiber arts, respect for ancestors, tattooing, surfing, and other practices. Life-sized photographic portraits and biographical profiles of Bay Area Pacific Islanders will help visitors learn more about people and culture.
“Many Californians are only remotely familiar with the many distinctly different cultures that share their ocean with us,” says Senior Curator of History Louise Pubols. “Pacific Worlds is a rare opportunity for the public to view historical objects from many Pacific Island cultures, but even more exciting, it is the unprecedented chance to view these objects as interpreted by members of the contemporary Pacific Island communities in California today for whom these objects and their contexts are part of a vibrant continuum of cultural lineages and practice. As such, Pacific Worlds will present much more than historical information about objects, but a living and relevant narrative about how the types of objects—such as tapa, a type of bark cloth, and ritual kava bowls used for medicinal, religious, social and political purposes—continue to be made and used by Pacific cultures today as part of thriving communities in California, many of which have had centuries of interaction with what is now our State.”
Community Advisory Task Force member and artist Jean Melesaine says, “My parents are from the villages of Moamoa and Faleali’li in Western Samoa. This exhibition gives breath to the balance of my parents’ journey here, along with mine, and along with my sisters’ and brothers’ who live from Moamoa to West Oakland. There is a connection that we all innately are well aware of, that we cannot lose even if the waves we now travel through the diaspora are no longer water. This is its honoring.”
Carolyn Melenani Kuali`i (Kanaka–Native Hawaiian) of the Task Force adds, “Pacific Worlds is a kāhea (a calling) to the peoples of the Pacific to remind us of the importance of our collective voice and kuleana (responsibility) to our Pacific heritage. Having the songs and stories told by us will be a celebration of our place in the larger content of this world and will provide an opportunity for others to awaken to a deeper understanding of who we are.”
ABOUT THE OAKLAND MUSEUM OF CALIFORNIA
The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) brings together collections of art, history and natural science under one roof to tell the extraordinary stories of California and its people. OMCA’s groundbreaking exhibits tell the many stories that comprise California with many voices, often drawing on first-person accounts by people who have shaped California’s cultural heritage. Visitors are invited to actively participate in the Museum as they learn about the natural, artistic and social forces that affect the state and investigate their own role in both its history and its future. With more than 1.9 million objects, OMCA is a leading cultural institution of the Bay Area and a resource for the research and understanding of California’s dynamic cultural and environmental heritage.
The Oakland Museum of California is located at 1000 Oak Street in Oakland, California. Museum admission is $15 general; $10 seniors and students with valid ID, $6 youth ages 9 to 17, and free for Members and children 8 and under. Admission during Friday Nights @ OMCA is half-off for adults, and free for ages 18 and under, after 5 pm. OMCA offers onsite underground parking and is conveniently located one block from the Lake Merritt BART station, on the corner of 10th Street and Oak Street. The accessibility ramp is located at the new 1000 Oak Street main entrance. For more information, visit museumca.org.
February 20, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), the World’s Fair celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal and showcasing San Francisco—its recovery from the ashes of the 1906 earthquake and fire and its world trade potential. Throughout 2015, the PPIE100, a consortium of cultural, civic, and historical organizations around the Bay Area, will conduct centennial programs to commemorate the PPIE’s historical significance and to reflect on its legacy. For more information, visit www.ppie100.org.
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