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11 US Museums Where You Can Experience Asian Pacific Art and Culture

maori carving
Written by Dhinesh Manuel

While the diverse cultures, cuisines, and languages that fall under the Asian Pacific communities in the US are very vast, you can still be certain to learn more about (and appreciate) them during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which runs through the month of May. To guide you through the easy path to gaining a better understanding of the region and its significant contribution to American society, here are 11 museums and cultural centers across the US that are sure to inform and entertain you, not just during this month, but all through the year.

American Museum of Natural History — New York City

javanese-shadow-puppetry
Dive into the many cultures of the South Pacific islands at the American Museum of Natural History’s Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples. You can learn all about the ornate traditional masks from Papua New Guinea and marvel at the plaster cast life-size replica of the Moai, one of the large stone heads found on the Easter Island (off the coast of Chile). You can also be enlightened by the shadow puppets from Java, Indonesia, which for centuries have used light and puppetry to engage audiences about religion, history, and mythology. There is also a great exhibit on the weapons used by Maori warriors from New Zealand, which are made from whalebone, wood, and stone.

Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum — Long Beach, California

Over 20,000 islands make up Oceania, but you will feel the sense of community and ancestry of its native people at the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum in Long Beach, California. Immerse yourself in their stories, art and rituals through objects such as the Tanoa fai ‘ava bowl used for ceremonial drinks and the woven machi mantle worn by sacred island chiefs. Indigenous materials like the banana and hibiscus fibers woven in textiles and the native hardwoods used in carvings showcase the beauty and natural resources of Oceania. Stunning permanent exhibits bringing Pacific Island culture to life are always on display along with traveling exhibits and special events celebrating the heritage of the people of Oceania.

Metropolitan Museum of Art — New York City

Aboriginal Artwork
If you taking any cheap flights to the Big Apple, the Met is also a great stopover to take in some stunning artifacts from the Pacific Islands in the Arts of Oceania section of the museum. You can check out fine examples of rock paintings of the Australian Aboriginals, some which are more than 40,000 years old! The Met also showcases a strong collection of sculptures from the island of New Guinea, Polynesia, and the islands of Southeast Asia. In addition, you can get some perspective on how imagery found in art from the Pacific Islands had a direct influence on western art forms like Expressionism and Surrealism.

The Guam Museum — Hagåtña, Guam

Local artwork and artifacts weave a rich history at the Guam Museum in Hagåtña. An expansive mural, “Fo’na Creating the People of Guam,” greets you as you enter a gallery dedicated to Chamorro culture and important historical events of Guam. Another gallery depicts the ecosystem and its relationship with early settlers. Replicas of a guma higal, or pole and thatch hut, and guma latte, or latte house, give visitors a glimpse of the ancient Chamorra life. A timeline continues Guam’s story with the arrival of the Spanish and Americans and their role in Guam’s history and culture. Don’t leave without hearing the recorded voices of war survivors sharing their experiences of World War II Occupation and Liberation.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) — Los Angeles

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LACMA is home to a vast collection of Pacific art that focuses on Polynesia and Melanesia. The items on exhibit include an 18th-century Hawaiian drum, an Easter Islands dance paddle, and a hermaphrodite ancestor figure from Papua New Guinea. The museum has a collection of Asian art that is also impressive and eclectic, with a dedicated Pavilion for Japanese Art and a wing of Korean art in the Hammer Building that spread over a wide of range of historical periods.

Jean P. Haydon American Samoa Museum — Pago Pago, American Samoa

Experience traditional Pacific Island culture and get a taste of Samoa’s unique history with lunar exploration at the Jean P. Haydon American Samoa Museum in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Exhibits on traditional tattooing, native pharmacopeia and tapa-making are part of this museum housed in a historical building that once belonged to the United States Navy. After you check out the canoe collection and learn more about Samoa’s history through the photography exhibit, visit the display of moonstones and the American Samoa flag that commemorate Apollo moon missions. Upon their returns to Earth, Apollos 10, 12, 13, 14 and 17 landed in nearby waters.

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center — Washington, D.C.

Row of golden buddha statue

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center takes things up a notch by coming up with creative, interactive platforms through which to highlight the stories of Asian and Pacific Island peoples. Its Culture Labs are dedicated to use new technology and social media to bring virtual exhibits right to your screens wherever you may be.

USC Pacific Asia Museum — Pasadena, California

Discover 5,000 years of Asian and Pacific Island art at the USC Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, California. Get to know the meaning, materials and geography behind the art in the new permanent gallery displaying “The Art of Pacific Asia” View the most extensive collection of Japanese folk paintings outside of Japan, and discover Buddhist Art and South Pacific bark cloth. After you spend time immersing yourself in Pacific Asian art from ancient times, take a walk through the more modern offerings of contemporary Aboriginal artwork and Chinese contemporary art. The diversity of Asia and the Pacific Islands is reflected in special exhibits from artists representing these regions.

St. Louis Art Museum — St. Louis

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The St. Louis Art Museum has some insightful exhibits about the Pacific Islands, and its artifacts include a Maori fishing canoe, a Fijian breastplate, and a New Guinea human-bird figure, to name a few. There are a plethora of masks, paintings, weapons, and textiles that also highlight cultures from Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Australia. Asian art and artifacts include Chinese sculpture, calligraphy, and decorative arts; Japanese lacquer, calligraphy, and painting; and South Asian sculptures.

NMI Museum of History & Culture — Garapan, Saipan

Learn about the Chamorro and Carolinian people of the Northern Mariana Islands and the impact of the Spanish, German, Japanese and Americans on their way of life. Located in Garapan, Saipan, the NMI Museum exhibits documents, photographs and artifacts showing the strength and ingenuity of the people of the Marianas. Each collection, with the oldest going back 4,000 years, shows a different era of history and contains special and rare pieces. You can see Micronesian slings and projectiles, Catholic relics and war memorabilia. The museum’s Concepcion Collection has Spanish galleon treasures from a sunken ship including pottery storage jars and gold pieces.

Wing Luke Museum — Seattle

Perspective and Asian Pacific American experiences bring passion to the tours and exhibits at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle’s Chinatown Historic District. Start your visit with a tour of nearby historic buildings for a look at the past. Learn about the lives of early Asian Pacific American immigrants through the “Honoring Our Journey” exhibit that tells their story. View the artwork of Asian Pacific American artists, and explore Bruce Lee’s connection to Seattle and his influence in the “A Dragon Lives Here” exhibit. Before you leave, stop by the Marketplace to sample the collection of books by Asian Pacific American Authors and the locally made art and jewelry.

Are there any museums we may have left out? Let us know in the comments.

About the author

Dhinesh Manuel

Socialite, philanthropist, costumed crime fighter by night...no wait...that's Batman...my bad ...

Musician, writer, travel junkie, dog lover, and database of useless information. I love to learn about new cultures, experience new cuisines, meet new people, and have a few laughs along the way!

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