Nicholas Thomas spoke at the Indigenous Arts in Transition Seminar on Wednesday, May 9, 2012. His talk was entitled “Out of Place: Art and History in Oceania.”

In his lecture, Thomas explored the art and history of the Pacific through a series of formative moments, from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. Consideration will be given to how we imagine cross-cultural encounters, how we interpret the art of this region, and what the legacies of these encounters are today. Furthermore, Thomas argued that Oceania was not so much a theatre for a dynamic of the global and the local, one in which Islanders received or resisted the forces of colonialism and modernity. Rather, the region possessed its own cosmopolitanism and generated a range of art genres, at once the products of cross-cultural histories and lens upon them.

Nicholas Thomas is Professor of Historical Anthropology, Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Professorial Fellow of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. He received his BA in Anthropology and his PhD in Pacific History from the Australian National University. Thomas first visited the Pacific Islands in 1984 to research his PhD thesis on the Marquesas Islands. He later worked in Fiji and New Zealand, and has written widely on art, voyages, colonial encounters, and contemporary culture in the Pacific. Thomas is author, co-author, or editor of more than 30 books, including Entangled Objects (1991), Oceanic Art (1995), and Discoveries: the voyages of Captain Cook (2003). His most recent book, Islanders: the Pacific in the Age of Empire (2010), was awarded the Wolfson History Prize. Thomas’s collaborations with Pacific artists include Hiapo: Past and Present in Niuean Barkcloth (with John Pule, 2005), and Rauru: Tene Waitere, Maori Carving, Colonial History (with Mark Adams, Lyonel Grant, and James Schuster, 2009). These works have all addressed transformations of material culture and the entanglement of European and indigenous projects since the eighteenth century in Oceania. Thomas’s exhibitions have included Skin Deep: a History of Tattooing for the National Maritime Museum, London, and Cook’s Sites for the Museum of Sydney, as well as Kauage: Artist of Papua New Guinea and several other shows at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge.