Painting, acrylic on canvas, background of purple, with features of the landscape represented as circular shapes in white and black

Virtual gallery


Visiting the British Museum

Oceania is the vast region of the world that includes Australia, New Guinea and the many islands spread across the vast South Pacific Ocean.

The British Museum has some of the world's most important collections of art and artefacts from Oceania. Although the Museum doesn't at present have a dedicated Oceania Gallery, selections can be seen in the Living and Dying (Room 24), the Enlightenment gallery (Room 1) and Collecting the world (Room 2). 

The Oceania section of the Department of Africa, Oceania and Americas has active research programs in collaboration with Oceanic peoples, contributing to publications and exhibitions. 

Virtual gallery

Below are further selected objects from the collections, not all of which are on display. While categorising this region into parts has some difficulties, for convenience we divide the areas into: Australia, Island of New Guinea (Papua New Guinea and West Papua), Island Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

Virtual gallery facts

  • Oceania extends from Australia and New Guinea in the west to Hawai'i in the north, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the east and Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the south.
  • People have been living in Australia for more than 60,000 years while some islands, such as Aotearoa (New Zealand), were peopled comparatively recently, about 1,000 years ago.
  • Between the late 18th century and the mid-20th century, Europeans colonised the whole of Oceania, introducing their own governments, commerce and Christian religion, as well as large-scale immigration to places such as Australia, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Hawai'i.
  • Since they were colonised by Europeans, Oceanic peoples have at times migrated elsewhere for work and economic opportunities, especially from the smaller islands to larger countries but also to America and Europe.
  • Most countries in Oceania have gained independent governments since the mid-20th century but Indigenous people in the region continue to face challenges such as racial discrimination in some countries, environmental degradation and sea level rises in the smaller islands.
  • The British Museum's collections reflect the parts of the history of Oceania, acquired through various kinds of colonial relationships, including conflict, trade, missionary activity and donation. The collection is now curated as a cultural resource for the people of Oceania as well as the visiting and online public. 

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