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Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology




This exhibition draws upon the Museum’s world-class collection of barkcloth, dating from the eighteenth century to the present day. Exceptional barkcloths, rarely displayed, will be featured including two works by women of the Omie community of Papua New Guinea, acquired in 2012 with the support of the Art Fund and other donors.

For millennia, Pacific Islanders have made cloth from the bark of trees. Often taking on ceremonial significance, its decoration is extraordinary, with patterns that are enjoyed for their abstraction as much as their symbolism. Today, the practice of barkcloth- making remains a vital aspect of many Pacific Island communities.









     Bark cloth tapered at one end.

     Papua New Guinea. Early 20th Century.

     MAA E 1915.26.102.











Barkcloth is made by soaking and beating the inner bark of specific trees, most commonly the Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera). In some places it takes the form of huge sheets featuring optically dynamic patterns, while elsewhere barkcloth features plants and animal life, sacred creatures and mythic narratives. Some cloths were wealth objects, spectacular fabrics many metres in size, which were presented by one clan to another on great ceremonial occasions. Cloth was often understood as a kind of skin, a powerful wrapping for the body which revealed its inner state and identity. Primarily created by women using inherited clan designs, the manufacture of barkcloth formed a major vehicle for both creative expression and social cohesion, maintaining and communicating the artists’ deep connection to their ancestors and country.





     Large barkcloth.

     Cook Islands, Aitutaki. Late 19th Century.

     MAA E 1901.123.

     Photography by Simon Hawkins.





The Museum was delighted to loan some of its most outstanding examples to the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham for an exhibition in 2013, some of these works will now be displayed as part of this exhibition.

The catalogue from the exhibition at the Ikon Gallery will be on sale in the MAA shop during this exhibition.


Two million years of human history. One million artefacts. Countless astonishing stories.