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Karen Jacobs

  • Karen JacobsLecturer in the Arts of the Pacific
  • Tel0044 (0)1603 592747
  • Academic Background BA (1996); MA Art history (non-western art) (1998), University of Ghent, Belgium; MA ‘Advanced studies in the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas’ (2000), Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia; PhD Art and Anthropology (2004), University of East Anglia; Post-doctoral research associate, University of East Anglia (2005-2009)
  • General Research Interests Collecting and history of collections, representation and museum ethnography, auctions and the art market, cultural festivals, politics of clothing, contemporary Pacific art
  • Current Research                

    • Karen Jacobs has recently completed a research project focusing on missionary collections, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (grant reference ah/j008494/1). The Networking Grant Who Cares? The material heritage of British missions in Africa and the Pacific, and its future, was established as a partnership between the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, and National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh, which each hosted a workshop, and the Museum Ethnographers Group, which hosted a webpage for the project. The aim of the project was to form a network of researchers, curators, representatives of UK-based missionary societies and of heritage organisations in Africa and the Pacific. During the three workshops, the network explored the contemporary issues that arise around material that derives from British Christian missions in Africa and the Pacific.

      She is currently also co-investigator in the AHRC-funded research project Fijian Art: political power, sacred value, social transformation and collecting since the 18th century, a collaborative 3-year project that aims to unlock the potential of the outstanding collections of Fijian art, material culture and associated photographs and archives held in museums in the United Kingdom and abroad.

      Karen Jacobs’ research in the Kamoro region in West Papua focuses broadly on the dynamic processes by which persons and objects are interrelated. More specifically it focuses on cross-cultural encounters to expose the diversity of ways in which Kamoro culture has been communicated and constituted through the analysis of cultural representation. Particular emphasis is given to the creative and pragmatic adaptation by the Kamoro people to different forms of contact. The annual Kamoro Arts Festival, a forum for public relations, self-representation and cultural politics in a politically delicate climate, was subject of fieldwork in West Papua (2000, 2001, 2002 and 2005). Recently the focus has shifted towards patronage and corporate collecting, which was the subject of fieldwork in 2011.

  • Exhibition projects                

    • She co-curated with Prof Steven Hooper the exhibition Polynésie: arts et divinités 1760-1860 at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris (17 Jun – 14 Sep 2008). This was the French version of Pacific Encounters: art and divinity in Polynesia 1760-1860, shown at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich (20 May – 13 Aug 2006). Connected to the exhibition was a symposium Exhibiting Polynesia: past, present and future (17-18 June 2008) which ties in with her own research.

      She also worked as the research associate on the ‘Pacific Encounters’ exhibition and its associated AHRC-sponsored research project ‘Polynesian Visual Arts: meanings and histories in Pacific and European cultural contexts’.

      While doing PhD research, she acted as a consultant for the exhibition Papua lives! Meet the Kamoro, which was part of a research project at the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, The Netherlands (2000-2003).

  • Selected Publications               

    • Forthcoming. Trophies, relics and curios? Missionary heritage from Africa and the Pacific, ed. by K. Jacobs, C. Knowles & C. Wingfield. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

      2014. ‘Inscribing missionary impact in Central Polynesia: Mapping the George Bennet Collection.’ The Journal of the History of Collections 26 (2): 263-276.

      2013. ‘Beaten drums: a Kamoro carver’s perspective’, in L. Bolton et al. (eds.), Melanesia: Art and Encounter, pp. 166-172. London: British Museum Press.

      2012. Collecting Kamoro: Objects, Encounters and Representation on the Southwest Coast of Papua. Mededelingen van het Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde 40. Leiden: Sidestone Press and National Museum of Ethnology. (see:

      2011. ‘Transacting Creations: the Kamoro Arts Festival (1998-2006) in Papua.’ The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 12(4): 363-382.

      2009. Editor. Encounters with Polynesia. Exhibiting the past in the present, special issue of The Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 21.

      2009. ‘Artists in residence: Polynesian engagement with the past’, in K. Jacobs (ed.), Encounters with Polynesia. Exhibiting the past in the present, special issue of The Journal of Museum Ethnography 21: 112-126.

      2008. ‘United Colors of Papua’: Kamoro arts and cultural appropriation’, in J. Harris (ed.), Identity theft. Cultural colonisation, contemporary art, pp. 175-96. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

      2008. ‘Kunst van Polynesië/Art de la Polynésie’, in F. Herreman (ed.), Oceanië/Océanie, pp. 123-41. Brussel: Mercatorfonds.

      2007. ‘Kamoro Kakuru: the Kamoro Festival in Pigapu village, Papua’, in K. Stevenson & V. Lee-Webb (eds.), Re-presenting Pacific Art, pp. 91-110. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

      2006. ‘Collectors, dealers and institutions’, in S. Hooper, Pacific Encounters. Art and divinity in Polynesia 1760-1860, pp. 270-74. London: British Museum Press.


      Joint publications


      Hooper, Steven, Karen Jacobs, Maia Jessop [Nuku] and George Nuku. 2012. ‘Encounters with Polynesia in Britain: Art, Ancestors, Artists and Curators’ in Museum Anthropology 35 (1) : 10-22.

Kamoro arriving at the 2001 Kamoro Arts Festival. Photo: Karen Jacobs