Pacific Presences

Oceanic art and European museums

European Research Council 2013-2018


This project will explore major ethnographic collections that entered European museums during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and have remained largely unstudied since. Focussing on materials from the Pacific that are now in museums in Russia, Germany, the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom, it will use innovative cross-disciplinary methods to advance understandings of materiality, cross-cultural history, and museum policy and practice in Europe today. A team of researchers based in Cambridge will investigate Oceanic collections across a range of European museums, including those at MAA, in unprecedented depth. They will work with a network of collaborators, including elders and community members in the Pacific Islands, and contemporary artists, who will provide a range of expert, customary, and experimental perspectives upon art works and genres, and upon the questions raised by collection histories and museum environments. The project will:

*theorise collections as complex, relational assemblages, never simple samples of local material cultures;

*use comparative methods to understand both the arts of Oceania and the making of European collections and museums. We will analyse and compare British, Dutch, French, German and Russian collecting histories and ask how and why these enterprises resulted in distinctive collections and museums;

*propose new, powerfully historicised approaches to presentations of Oceanic art, and world cultures generally, appropriate to the European museums of the twenty-first century.

Find out more on the Pacific Presences project website.

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