The Artists of the Marquesas Islands

It is impossible to dream of Tahiti and not think of art and those who create it. This part of the world has drawn the creative set for centuries, and this includes the first inhabitants. To this extent, I’d like to shine a spotlight on the artists of the Marquesas Islands.

Are the Marquesas part of French Polynesia?

Tahiti island map
Map of the 5 Archipelagoes of French Polynesia

Yes, they are. French Polynesia is divided into five groups of islands, which include The Society Islands (where the island named, “Tahiti” is located), the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Gambier Islands, the Austral Islands, and the Marquesas Islands

The Marquesas Islands are located about 1,422 kilometers (884 miles) northeast of Papeete, Tahiti. They are delightfully remote and are home to only two small lodge-style resorts. However, those who call these islands home are scattered throughout these towering green peaks that interrupt the flow of the South Pacific’s azure seas.

Sculptures – Wood, Stone or Bone

Wood Carvings for Sale in the Marquesas
Local carvings for sale

Often, art is thought of as something to simply be looked at and pondered, and that is true in the work that is created in the Marquesas. But there is so much more to it than that. Many of the works seek to capture the history of these islands and their inhabitants. You’ll find works dedicated to religious beliefs, the record of the people, and the influences of the creatures that live above and below the sea.

Common household items and tools for everyday use, for example, eating utensils, plates, and fans, are all produced by these artisans as well.

Woods native to the land are the most common medium. It is the richness of the Pacific Rosewood, Ironwood, Coconut, and Sandalwood that embellishes the stories that are told.  Items carved from stone and bone are also very common in the islands.

Certainly, none of these Polynesian artists ever had the opportunity to meet Michelangelo. However, I know they could fully understand and identify with his famous sculpting quote,

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.  If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.  Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

Stone Carvings in the Marquesas Islands
Various stone carvings around the Marquesas Islands

If you re interested in following a Polynesian artist who carves from stone, have a look on Instagram  at @tevavictorsculptor or on his website at  One of his stone sculptures is on my bucket list as a future souvenir!


Tapa is a very special cloth that is painstakingly made from tree bark that spent the first part of its life basking in the Marquesan sun. The bark is detached from trees such as the banyan, paper mulberry, and breadfruit. The soft heart of this bark is pounded in a special wood beater until it resembles a fine fabric. Next, this fabric is starched to regain desired stiffness. At this point, the artist adds their signature by soaking the fabric in natural colored dyes. The Tapa is then decorated with tribal or nature-oriented patterns using island inks.

Watch this beautiful video Tapa Cloth courtesy of one of my local partners in the islands:

Tapa – Tahiti Islands Travel from Tahiti Islands Travel on Vimeo.

Wearable art

Clothing is not the only wearable art in these islands. The Marquesan people are highly skilled at making many types of jewelry.  They create items from their local bone, shell, wood, seeds, and much more.


Tahitian tattoos

In the Marquesas Islands, famed for their tattoos, a tattoo artist is known as a Tuhuna Patu Tiki. It is thought by Tahitian traditionalists that the body art masters possess the inner nature that embodies the images they ink. This allows them the ability to weave key meanings and memories into the work they do for each person. They are believed to be able to articulate various meanings by combining different Polynesian symbols and icons together. As a result, an artist’s work can become highly regarded in the Tahitian community and as I like to say the Ultimate Souvenir to bring home.  For more on Tattoos you can read my previous blog post – Click Here

Return home with more than memories

I promise that the trip I help you create will be full of enough memories to last a lifetime.  If you would like to travel to the Marquesas let’s talk about cruising on the incredibly unique Aranui 5 freighter/cruise for the most cultural experience or onboard the Paul Gauguin for the most luxurious.  We can also plan a trip stay at the 2 lodges the Hotel Nuku Hiva Keikahanui Lodge and the Hotel Hiva Oa Hanakee Lodge and fly between them.

Having said that, know that the artists of the Marquesas would be so honored to share both their heritage and talents with you. That way, when you return home, you’ll have a memento of the greatest vacation of your life!   And don’t worry, if you are not visiting the Marquesas Islands, most of their incredible art is also sold around the more popular Society Islands.

Here are a few pieces I have picked up throughout my travels of the South Pacific.  I have them throughout my house to make me smile on a daily basis.

Some of my personal collection of South Pacific Art



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Carl Henderson