Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Na Hulu Ali‘i
For centuries on the Hawaiian Islands, vividly colored feathers gathered from native birds were valuable cultural resources, ornamenting spectacular garments painstakingly constructed by hand. Long cloaks and short capes (‘ahu ‘ula), helmets (mahiole), and leis (lei hulu) bore rainbows of feathers to signify the divinity and power of chiefs (ali‘i), who wore them for spiritual protection and to proclaim their identity and status. These unique valuables also found use as objects of diplomacy, helping to secure political alliances and agreements. Today, fewer than 300 examples of historic featherwork exist to shape our knowledge of the art form known as nā hulu ali‘i (royal feathers).
Organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in partnership with the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, this presentation highlights a remarkable collection of objects rarely exhibited outside Hawai‘i. While the art form dates back many centuries, this exhibition focuses on pieces made for Hawaiian royals beginning in the late 18th century and ending just before the 20th—a period that saw the arrival of European explorers, the unification of the islands, wide-scale conversion to Christianity, the overthrow of the Hawaiian government, and annexation by the U.S.
This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. Major support
is provided by Ann Ziff.
Sponsored by Halekulani Corporation
Additional support is provided by Mark and Carolyn Blackburn, Will and Celeste Hughes, the Ethnic Arts Council of Los Angeles,
and the Arvey Foundation.
All exhibitions at LACMA are underwritten by the LACMA Exhibition Fund. Major annual support is provided by Kitzia and Richard
Goodman, with generous annual funding from Louise and Brad Edgerton, Edgerton Foundation, Emily and Teddy Greenspan,
Jenna and Jason Grosfeld, and Lenore and Richard Wayne.
‘Ahu ‘ula (cloak), pre-1825, Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection, photo © Bishop Museum
ACMA has been given an unexpected opportunity to host an additional exhibition this year: Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Na Hulu Ali‘i proved to be an irresistible temptation, even though we had a short eight weeks to plan and install it! The exhibition consists of over 70 brilliantly colored cloaks, capes, mahiole (headdresses), kahili (standards), and lei crafted from hundreds of thousands of feathers from indigenous Hawaiian birds.