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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:

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