Research projects 

The Globalisation of Samoan Tattoo - Sean Mallon

Current research projects include a study of contemporary Samoan tattooing practices. This research began with the international research project titled Tatau/Tattoo: Embodied Art and Cultural Exchange, c. 1760-2000, funded by the Getty Grant Program (United States) and the Arts and Humanities Research Board (United Kingdom) and led by Professor Nicholas Thomas (Goldsmiths University, London).

This three-year research project brought together researchers from Hawai'i, Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The key focus was on the critical but neglected area of Oceanic-European interaction from the eighteenth century to the present. It addressed basic gaps in the historic record, documented remarkable innovations in contemporary Polynesian cultures, and investigated the transformations of gendered and empowering body arts, through colonial and postcolonial exchanges.

A key output from this project is a book of photographs by New Zealand photographer Mark Adams documenting Samoan tattooing in New Zealand from the late 1970s to 2005. Titled Tatau: Samoan Tattooing, New Zealand Art, Global Culture this book was published by Te Papa Press in 2010.

Research and writing of a broader history and ethnography of Samoan tattooing is planned for 2012 and 2013.

Read more about Samoan Tattooing, New Zealand Art, Global Culture

Pacific Cultures Collection Survey

A survey of the Pacific Cultures collection has been in progress since 2007. This project aims to verify our collection holdings, photograph the objects and upgrade our records information for publication online. The first research output from this project is an article on Te Papa's collection of artifacts from the Cook Islands that was published in July 2010.
Read the article - Rediscovering the collection: Cook Islands material culture in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa 

You can see some of the artifacts that have been put online as a result of the Cook Islands collections survey.

An article on the Niue collections was published in July 2011. 
Read the article - Exploring ‘the Rock’: Material culture from Niue Island in Te Papa’s Pacific Cultures collection

In 2012-13 collections research will focus on the material culture from East Polynesia and Hawaii. 

Tīvaevae Making in New Zealand - Grace Hutton

The focus of this project is based around interviews of Cook Island women who have made a reputation for themselves as makers and designers of tīvaevae in New Zealand. A book manuscript documenting this project is in preparation.

Tangata o le Moana: New Zealand and the People of the Pacific (editors) Sean Mallon, Kolokesa Mahina –Tuai and Damon Salesa

This project explores the 1000 year history arrivals and settlement of Pacific peoples in New Zealand. A major research output has been the exhibition Tangata o le Moana: the story of Pacific people in New Zealand that opened at Te Papa in 2007. Another major output is a book that examine more closely the key narratives from the exhibition.  The first full-length book of its kind, Tangata o le Moana puts Pacific viewpoints at its centre to reveal our shared history in fresh and surprising ways. It tells the story of Pacific peoples in New Zealand – from the great journeys of migration undertaken by the ancestors of modern Māori to the politically explosive dawn raids of the 1970s to Tana Umaga becoming the first Sāmoan to captain the All Blacks, and more.

Across fifteen essays written by leading historians and writers, every aspect of this history is touched on, from migration to tourism, economics to politics, sport to the arts. A rich cache of previously unpublished oral histories and primary source material combine with hundreds of historical and contemporary photos, archival documents, maps and beautiful images of evocative museum objects and artworks to make Tangata o le Moana a rigorously researched, yet human and colourful, record of the story of New Zealand as a Pacific place.With contributions from Peter Adds, Melani Anae, Geoff Bertram, Janet Davidson, Gavin McLean, Cluny Macpherson, Claudia Orange, Fulimalo Pereira, Anne Salmond, Teresia Teaiwa and Graeme Whimp. The book will be published by Te Papa Press in March 2012.

Learn more about Tangata o le Moana: the story of Pacific People in New Zealand

A History of Art in Oceania

Dr Peter Brunt (Senior Lecturer in Art History) and Sean Mallon (Senior Curator of Pacific Cultures at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa received a Marsden grant in 2007 to research a new history of art in Oceania.

Conceived by Brunt and Mallon, the project is a three year collaboration with Dr Deidre Brown (Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Auckland) and three London-based scholars: Professor Nicholas Thomas (Director of the Cambridge Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Cambridge), Dr Lissant Bolton (Head of Oceania Section, The British Museum) and Professor Susanne Kuechler (Anthropology, University College London) and Dr Damian Skinner (Art Historian).

The Art in Oceania project will explore how indigenous art traditions have been profoundly shaped by history, from the politics of monumental architecture in the ancient Pacific to numerous artistic practices stimulated by colonial contact to the recent emergence of modernist and Contemporary Pacific art in the decolonising decades since the Second World War. This project has produced a book that will be published by Thames and Hudson (London) in late 2012.