Art & Entertainment | Book Reviews | Education | Entertainment Video | Health | Lifestyle | Sport | Sport Video | Search


Remarkable Art Form Revealed

For immediate release

Remarkable Art Form Revealed

The first, and only, book about a stunning art form is about to be published. Hiapo - the barkcloth or tapa of Niue - is a neglected art form produced in the mid to late nineteenth century. Surviving pieces are now dispersed, largely in museum collections in North America, the Pacific and throughout Europe.

John Pule, a Niuean artist and writer, and Nicholas Thomas, an Australian writer, anthropologist and historian, have spent ten years combing through these museums searching for surviving hiapo. They also visited Niue and spoke to people on the island to find out more about the art form. Hiapo: Past and Present in Niuean Barkcloth publishes almost all the painted hiapo they were able to locate on their journeys.

Hiapo offer a window on a time when missionary impact was deepening and Niuean life was changing forever. These powerful works of art are often more than two metres long and usually painted in black. The paintings range from abstract patterns to detailed renderings of plants, peoples and objects. They contain a revealing mixture of Niuean and European imagery: furniture, ships and marine tools sit alongside symbols of marine life, plants and leaves. Some include words; another a woman dressed in a crinoline.

Missionaries and visitors to Niue collected these hiapo, resulting in their wholesale displacement from the island. Only one complete hiapo remains on Niue, and that was repatriated by the New Zealand government in the 1970s. It sits behind the Speaker's chair in Parliament.

Hiapo is a personal response to Niue, hiapo and the museums in which they are stored. John Pule's response to hiapo is based on his personal understanding of the art form, and what hiapo means to him as an artist and poet. A series of his etchings are included in the book. Nicholas Thomas's contributions are shaped by his research on art and culture in the Pacific, and by a personal commitment to recover the objects and stories of the colonial Pacific. Hiapo is published by University of Otago Press.


Author Information

John Pule was born in Niue and is one of the Pacific's most distinguished contemporary artists. He began painting in 1987 and held his first exhibition in 1989; his work has featured in many exhibitions in Australia, New Zealand, Korea, South Africa and the United States. John Pule's work blends Pacifica art forms with European materials. Several of his etchings are included in Hiapo: Past and Present in Niuean Barkcloth.

John Pule is also a poet and novelist. His poetry collections include Sonnets to Van Gogh and Providence (1982), Flowers after the Sun (1984) and Bond of Time (1985). Pule's first novel, The Shark that Ate the Sun was published in 1992. Burn My Head in Heaven followed in 1998. In 2004, the New Zealand Arts Foundation awarded him a Laureate for his achievements.

Australian Nicholas Thomas is a Professor of Anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has worked in various parts of the Pacific, including Fiji, New Zealand and Niue, exploring colonial histories, exchange, art and contemporary identities. He has curated several exhibitions on the history, art, and culture of Oceania, including 'Savage Island Hiapo' at the Djamu Gallery, National Musuem in Sydney.

His publications include Cook's Sites: Revisiting History (1999), Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook (2003), Double Vision: Art Histories and Colonial Histories in the Pacific (1999) and Possessions: Indigenous Art/Colonial Culture (1999).

Book details Hiapo: Past and Present in Niuean Barkcloth by John Pule & Nicholas Thomas Hardback, $59.95. Over 100 colour illustrations Publication date: 7 October


Amanda Smith, Publicist University of Otago Press, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand tel (03) 479 9094. fax (03) 479 8385. email:

New titles

More than Law and Order: Policing a Changing Society 1945-1992

Susan Butterworth

Follow the controversial history of the New Zealand police through the second half of the twentieth century, including insights into the Arthur Allan Thomas case, Erebus disaster, Springbok tour and growing use of forensics. Hardback, $49.95

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Controlling the High Ground

Stephen Johnson's raw and angry film not only poses important questions with scrupulous authenticity, but also provides a timely reminder of the genocidal consequences of casual bigotry and xenophobia. More>>

Howard Davis: Dryzabone - Robert Conolly's The Dry

After the terrible devastation caused by last year’s bushfires, which prompted hundreds of Australians to shelter in the ocean to escape incineration and destroyed uncountable amounts of wildlife, The Dry has been released during a totally different kind of dry spell. More>>

Howard Davis: Benjamin Ree's The Painter and The Thief

The Norwegian filmmaker had long been fascinated by art thieves who commit high-stakes crimes with a delicate touch when a chance Google search in 2015 uncovered a botched heist in Oslo. More>>

Howard Davis: Hit the Road, Jack - Chloé Zhao's Nomadland

Nomadland is perhaps the ultimately 'road' movie as it follows a group of dispossessed and disenfranchised vagabonds who find a form of communal refuge in camp sites and trailer parks after the economic contraction of 2008. More>>

Howard Davis: Byrneing Down the House - Spike Lee's American Utopia

Lee does an admirable job capturing Byrne's stunning live performance of his latest album, but the real star of the show is the staging. More>>

Howard Davis: The Phoenix Foundation Friend Ship Tour Docks in Wellington

A sense of local pride was certainly running high at the Opera House on Saturday night, as the lads ran through a tasty little set drawn mostly from their latest album Friend Ship (splash out for Xmas on the shocking pink extra-thick vinyl edition). More>>



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland