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|This tapa (bark cloth) painting was made by contemporary Marquesan artist Hina Tiaho in the 1990s. Depicting a fully tattooed warrior and complex geometric designs, this contemporary tapa speaks to the relationship between tattooing and other mediums in the Marquesas, as well as the persistence of a tradition that is grounded in a long history of changing social, political, and spiritual contexts.|
This particular cloth comes from an aoa (banyan tree), and is marked by its reddish brown appearance. Typically, these cloths were considered sacred and were used to make garments for warriors and priests (Kjellgren and Ivory 2005, 12). Painted tapa was actually quite rare, and was created by men, as Marquesan men usually created art related to sacred activities. Before trade between Western nations brought cotton cloth to the islands, bark cloth was used widely used throughout the Marquesas, where textiles were considered a women’s medium and a form of women’s wealth. Tapa made by women was used for clothing, bedding, or domestic use (Klarr). Interestingly, it is primarily women that have fostered the tradition of tapa painting as it lives on as an artform today (Ivory 1999, 330).
In the 1950s, women in villages Omoa and Hanavave in Fatuiva revived the tradition of tapa painting inspired by scenes and designs utilized in Marquesan woodcarving and tattooing (Ivory 1999, 330). In some cases, as with this painting, contemporary artists choose to reimagine a historic image using illustrations from the past. This work offers a striking comparison to a copperplate engraving in AMNH’s library collections entitled A Young Nukahiwan Not Completely Tattooed, made by German artist and scholar Wilhelm Gottlieb Tilesius von Tilenau during the Krusenstern Expedition of 1804 (Kjellgren and Ivory 2005, 55). In both the tapa and the engraving, a young warrior is depicted from behind, decorated with elaborate body tattoos, and holding trophies that mark his successes in battle. Working from such illustrations allows contemporary Marquesan artists to assert ownership of their cultural history and to accurately depict the motifs used in historic Marquesan art and tattooing.
The motifs employed in this painting are central to many art mediums in the Marquesas. With this in consideration it was brought into AMNH’s collections in 1999, donated by Pacific scholar Carol S. Ivory who purchased Hina Tiaho's work in Omoa, Fatu Hiva. In this painting, Tiaho depicts a warrior that was perhaps member of the elite Marquesan society, as he would have been able to afford the time and expense to tattoo most of his body (Kjellgren and Ivory 2005, 56). While men were often fully covered in body art, women were tattooed on their hands, arms, wrists, feet, ears and lips (Schildkrout 2001). Using the medium of painted bark cloth as it continues to be practiced today, Tiaho’s work materializes and preserves the tradition of body art. As Marquesan art continues to gain recognition in the world, the island’s designs “have made their way into popular culture and, in some ways, have become widely emblematic of Polynesia, even the Pacific Islands as a whole” (Kjellgren and Ivory 2005, 25).
Carol S. Ivory, “Art, Tourism and Cultural Revival in the Marquesas Islands.” In Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds, eds. Christopher B. Steiner and Ruth Phillips (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
Eric Kjellgren and Carol S. Ivory, Adorning the World: Art of the Marquesas Islands (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005).
Caroline Klarr. "Hiapo (tapa)," Khan Academy, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-oceania/polynesia/a/hiapo
Enid Schildkrout, "Body Art as Visual Language," AnthroNotes: Museum of Natural History Publication for Educators 22 (Winter 2001), http://anthropology.si.edu/outreach/anthnote/Winter01/anthnote.html
• BODY ART: MARKS OF IDENTITY. AMNH, NEW YORK, NY. November 1999 - May 2000
Exhibition Label: Painted bark cloth. Banyan innerbark, paint. 1999. The tattooed warrior image today appears in local advertising brochures and guide books, on T-shirts and on contemporary barkcloth paintings, such as this one by Marquesan artist Hina Tiaho.