Art historian Dr James Fox traces the momentous impact of the west’s contact with the peoples and cultures of the Pacific. It is a story of exploration, encounter and exploitation.
Part 1: Australia
James Fox tells the story of Australia’s indigenous culture, the oldest continuous culture anywhere in the world, and the disaster of its contact with the West. He traces how Aboriginal peoples were almost destroyed by the impact of European colonization, but held on to their art to survive, to flourish and ultimately, to share their culture with the world. James Fox begins by exploring the ancient rock art of Arnhem Land, Northern Australia, depicting fish and animals in an ‘x-ray’ style developed over 8000 years. The arrival of Captain Cook in Botany Bay, he argues, changed everything. Over the following centuries Aboriginal peoples were destroyed or marginalized as the new nation of Australia developed. Yet, in the 20th century, through works such as the watercolour landscapes of Albert Namatjira or the dot painting style of the Western desert, art has enabled Aboriginal people to re-imagine an Australia of their own.
Part 2: Polynesia
Continuing his exploration of the collision of the West and Pacific culture, James Fox explores how, ever since Captain Cook’s voyages 250 years ago, the West has created a myth of Polynesia as paradise and, in doing so, destroyed the riches of indigenous culture. He travels across the Pacific to uncover the sites and masterpieces of pre-contact Polynesian art, from the religious complex Taputapuatea on the island of Raiatea to the feathered ‘Ku’ heads from Hawaii, testament to the rich and sophisticated societies that once lived there. Yet, when Europeans encountered these cultures, waves of explorers, missionaries and colonisers destroyed what they didn’t understand and appropriated what was left. James Fox shows how, from Captain Cook’s time onward, these islands were re-imagined as a paradise with women available to be exploited.
Part 3: New Zealand
Concluding the series on the clash between the West and Pacific peoples and cultures, James Fox explores how New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people resisted colonisation and marginalisation and maintained their distinctive culture, so much so that it is now an integral part of modern New Zealand.
He encounters some of the greatest works of Maori carving, from the exquisitely painted paddles given to Captain Cook, to works by one of the great masters of Maori art, Tene Waitere, and shows how, from the beginning of their encounters with Europeans, the Maori adapted outside influences, whether it was modern firearms or the new religion of Christianity and produced fascinating hybrid work that ranges from elaborately carved rifle butts to a Madonna and child statue adorned with the Ta Moko, the sacred Maori facial tattoo.
Today, James Fox finds Maori culture in the midst of a full-scale Renaissance, embraced not only by the Maori themselves but all New Zealanders.