A’a: a deity from Polynesia (Objects in Focus)


This world-renowned sculpture is a unique figure in Polynesian art. An image of a deified ancestor, A’a was created sometime before 1821 on the island of Rurutu. Thirty dynamic figures stud his body, and the excellence of his craftsmanship suggests that his hollow interior once contained something of great cultural importance. Research undertaken ahead of the forthcoming exhibition revealed a small red feather lodged inside the statue and encouraged the curators to begin a range of scientific tests that had been unavailable to previous generations. Their revelations about the meaning and function of A’a are published here for the first time. A’a has been inspiring visitors since its arrival at the Museum in 1890, as much for its dramatic backstory as for its workmanship. The missionary John Williams saved the statue from being burned, but met an untimely end himself in the course of his work. The statue was a sensation when it arrived in England and inspired artists and poets for decades – Picasso was so struck by it that he had a copy made for himself. A’a is an idol in every sense of the word, and this book aims to inspire a new audience with his story.
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