The newest exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, open as of Sunday, explores items from the era in Hawaii that predates the cultural carnage that followed the arrival of Christian missionaries in the early 19th century. The objects on display feature elaborate featherwork made for the royal families of the islands. These pieces are seldom seen outside the islands. Sunday's opening of Royal Hawaiian Featherwork brought out a crowd of local and visiting Hawaiians, hula dancers from South Bay's Hula Hālau O Lilinoe and other traditional performers.
The Hawaiians and the art treasures were welcomed ceremonially by members and the chief of the Gabrielino band of Tongva indians, who burned sage and sang in the covered main entrance to the museum — just a few dozen yards from the closest tar seeps of asphalt escaping from the La Brea Tar Pits, where for hundreds of years at least the Tongva gathered sealing material for their boats and shelters. The lone human remains ever removed from the tar pits, dubbed La Brea woman, could be those of a Tongva.
Not your typical LACMA opening. Director Michael Govan even wore a lei for the occasion.
From the museum website:
For centuries on the Hawaiian Islands, vividly colored feathers gathered from native birds were valuable cultural resources, ornamenting spectacular garments painstakingly constructed by hand. Long cloaks and short capes (‘ahu ‘ula), helmets (mahiole), and leis (lei hulu) bore rainbows of feathers to signify the divinity and power of chiefs (ali‘i), who wore them for spiritual protection and to proclaim their identity and status. These unique valuables also found use as objects of diplomacy, helping to secure political alliances and agreements. Today, fewer than 300 examples of historic featherwork exist to shape our knowledge of the art form known as nā hulu ali‘i (royal feathers).
Organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in partnership with the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, this presentation highlights a remarkable collection of objects rarely exhibited outside Hawai‘i. While the art form dates back many centuries, this exhibition focuses on pieces made for Hawaiian royals beginning in the late 18th century and ending just before the 20th—a period that saw the arrival of European explorers, the unification of the islands, wide-scale conversion to Christianity, the overthrow of the Hawaiian government, and annexation by the U.S.
Royal Hawaiian Featherwork is in the Resnick Pavillion at LACMA through August 7.
Ahu ‘ula (cloak), pre-1825, Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection, photo © Bishop Museum