skip to content

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology



A new installation by British artist Tony Phillips is exhibited amongst existing MAA displays, linking contemporary life with ethnographic collections. 

Tony Phillips has long been fascinated by museum displays, which are full of artefacts associated with myth, power and ritual. Many of these artefacts are sacred. Through drawings, prints and interventions around the Museum's galleries, he brings together historic treasures with consumer culture and objects such as smartphones, asking about the connections between collections and contemporary life.

 Etching titled 'Shrine of Sacrifice', 1984 by Tony Philips. MAA 2020.13.2. © Tony Phillips

As part of the project TAKING CARE - Ethnographic and World Cultures Museums as Spaces of Care, Tony Phillips is the first of three artists in residence at MAA. Each artist has engaged or will engage with MAA and the Museum's collections through a series of visits, leading to interventions and exhibitions which will feature in the Museum's galleries over a period of approximately a year in each case.

"Whilst working at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology I was struck by a miniscule Japanese netsuke carving of an old man feeding a dragon. Exquisitely carved, it nestles in a glass case alongside other objects of oriental origin, a quiet unassuming study of a seated human figure.

I was inspired to insert this tranquil vignette - in its glass-cased museum home - into a picture which surrounds the tiny figure with all the furore of contemporary human life. The resulting artworks show the jarring contrast between the complexity, speed, size and mass produced nature of modern imagery and the simple beauty of the hand-crafted portrait.

In a way, museums themselves are an oases of calm in a frenetic world."

Tony Phillips

Pen and wash drawing on paper, ‘Old man feeding a dragon’, by Tony Philips, 2020. © Tony Philips

Artist biography

Tony Phillips was born in Liverpool in 1952. He trained at Lancaster Art College and is primarily a painter and printmaker. In 1984, he made a series of etching on the History of the Benin Bronzes which explored British looting from West Africa. The history was not well known at the time but has since become notorious. These works and others have been widely exhibited.

Tony Phillips now lives in Italy. The works exhibited at MAA were made between Cambridge and his home in Italy.

Two million years of human history. One million artefacts. Countless astonishing stories.