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barkcloth effigy
19th century
Bernice P. Bishop Museum
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Land of Ancient Tattoos
by N.F. Karlins

"Exotic and rare" are the words that best describe the almost 80 pieces in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current gem of an exhibition, "Adorning the World: Art of the Marquesas Islands." The show is the first devoted solely to work from the Marquesas in an art museum. Filled with intriguing objects, it leaves the viewer with as many questions as answers.

The Marquesas Islands, which can be visited today by cruise line, cargo ship and air, consists of six main islands and many smaller ones. They lie in the middle of the southern Pacific Ocean, about 800 miles northeast of Tahiti. Remembered as the final home of Paul Gauguin, the Marquesas only became generally known in the West with the publication of Herman Melville’s first novel, Typee, in 1846.