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Karen Jacobs

  • Karen JacobsSenior Lecturer 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' research is interdisciplinary, combining art-historical, anthropological and museological approaches and focuses broadly on Pacific arts and specifically on the dynamic processes by which persons and objects are interrelated. Most of her research was conducted in the framework of funded international research projects. She was 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  (2011-2014) that aimed 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, and its follow-up AHRC-funded project Fiji's artistic heritage: impact and engagement in Fiji (2016-17). Her particular focus was on fibre skirts (liku) and the associated female tattooing (veiqia) as worn by indigenous Fijian women in the nineteenth century. She was involved in a range of exhibitions during these projects

      In 2012-13 she was the Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded 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 the 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.


      Jacobs' research in the Kamoro region in West Papua 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). More recently the focus has shifted towards patronage and corporate collecting, which was the subject of fieldwork in 2011. 


      Jacobs considers sharing knowledge with and nurturing students an important part of her job and has supervised several PhD students. She is currently primary supervisor for:

      Sarah Tamashiro

      Rachel McNair Smith

      Amelie Roussillon

      Sylvia Cockburn

      Heather Donoghue



  • Exhibition projects                

    • 2016-17 Co-curator with Steven Hooper and Katrina Talei Igglesden of major exhibition Fiji Art and Life in Oceania, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich (14 October 2016-12 February 2017) showing over 270 works of art loaned by exhibition partner the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge, and by the Fiji Museum, the British Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) and museums in Aberdeen, Exeter, Birmingham, London and Maidstone. 

      2014 Co-curator with Katrina Igglesden and Rosanna Raymond of exhibition Art and the Body: exploring the role of clothing in Fiji, Fiji Museum, 19 March -18 June 2014.

      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               

    • 2019 (in press) This is not a grass skirt: on fibre skirts (liku) and female tattooing (veiqia) in 19th century Fiji. Leiden: Sidestone Press (86,000 words monograph).

      2017 'A sheet of the Daily Mail: Barkcloth aprons in the Kamoro region of Papua.' In Charleux, M.Tapa (ed.), Tapa: From Tree Bark to Cloth, an Ancient Art of Oceania, from Southeast Asia to Eastern Polynesia, Paris.

      2015 Trophies, relics and curios? Missionary heritage from Africa and the Pacific, ed. by K. Jacobs, C. Knowles & C. Wingfield. Leiden: Sidestone Press, 220 pages (see

      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.


      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