Accepted Paper:

Recovering lost significances: early collections and contemporary practices  

Author:

Antje Denner (National Museums Scotland)

Paper short abstract:

Focussing on Hawaiian barkcloth and a collaborative project that combines research on a historical museum collection and fieldwork with contemporary makers, this paper discusses the interrelationship between materiality and practice/experience/creativity in processes of knowledge production.

Paper long abstract:

Within collection studies and the investigation of art, materiality, historical and contemporary aesthetic practices, Pacific barkcloth has become an increasingly popular topic. Early Hawaiian barkcloth (kapa) is famous for its highly accomplished techniques and intriguing ornamentation. Explorers and travellers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were impressed by the variety of textures and designs, and collected large quantities of the material. However, while Polynesian barkcloth fascinated and inspired scholars and elites in London, Paris and Berlin alike, in the Hawaiian Islands the introduction of woven European cloth and other Western influences led to the gradual decline and, by the end of the 19th century, the abandonment of barkcloth production.

This paper presents first results of an ongoing project on a collection of early Pacific/Hawaiian barkcloths located in the National Museum of Scotland, which combines revisiting and 'unpacking' (Byrne 2011) the historical material with research and fieldwork in Hawai'i to collaborate with curators and contemporary makers who, since the 1960s, have revived the tradition. The aim to assess the significance and potential of the Edinburgh collection has led to an intensive exchange of information and ideas about the objects, the loss and recovery of production techniques, the importance of kapa in affirming local identity, and efforts to develop 'kapa for the 21st century'. Moreover, it has become clear that in the processes of knowledge production and transformation that pivot on Hawaiian barkcloth, historic collections and contemporary practice and experiences complement and reinforce each other, thus making collaboration essential.

Panel P047
Ka Waihona Palapala Mānaleo: Challenging Provenance in a Time of Resource Abundance