Chief Mourner’s costume

By 12th June 2018Uncategorised

Recently we had the pleasure of photographing a rare Tahitian Chief Mourner’s Costume (Heva Tupapau) at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter.  The images are to be used as part of the Oceania exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London later this year. 

The item was a challenge to photograph as the room we usually use for photography wasn’t available, so we had to use part of the public world cultures gallery.  There was just enough space for a 2.7m grey background to fit though the costume is quite tall, at what looked like over 7 foot and was quite tricky to light due to glass cabinets in close proximity.  The gallery was open too, so there was quite a lot of ambient light from various sources around the gallery.  Altogether we spent a good half day setting up and photographing the item.

We photographed the item on a rotator which made it easier to move as it is quite heavy and captured many images of it including an interactive 360spin.

There are only five such costumes in this state of preservation in the world.   This extraordinary costume was acquired Francis Godolphin Bond, who served as First Lieutenant on the Providence during the Second Breadfruit Voyage. The ship arrived in Tahiti in 1792 and Bond was presented with a mourner’s costume as a prestigious gift. Long after his return, Bond donated this to the museum in the Devon & Exeter Institution. However, the museum was short-lived as it wasn’t as popular as the Institution’s library. This costume was therefore transferred to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum soon after it was open to the public.

You can read more about the item and how it will be used in the Oceania Exhibition on the RAMM World Cultures website.

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