Ruth Phillips

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Visiting Professor
B.A.  Harvard University
M.A.  University of Toronto
PhD.  School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Ruth Phillips is Professor of Art History and Canada Research Chair in Modern Culture at Carleton University in Ottawa. Trained originally as an Africanist, she shifted her research and teaching to Native American art when she began teaching at Carleton in the early 1980s. In her 1997 book Trading Identities: The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast, 1700-1900, Phillips  argued for the authenticity of historical arts made for the curio and souvenir markets and explored the creative innovations and cross-cultural exchanges they embody. She is co-author, with Janet Catherine Berlo, of Native North American Art  (Oxford History of Art (rev. ed. 2013).
Two early curatorial projects– Patterns of Power: The Jasper Grant Collection and Great Lakes Indian Art of the Early Nineteenth Century (1984) and The Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada’s First Peoples (1988)– stimulated Phillips’ interest in the museum representation of non-Western arts and led to her work in critical museology. In 1997 she was appointed Director of the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology and, with museum staff and three First Nations partner communities, developed an innovative plan for the renewal and expansion of the museum’s virtual and physical research infrastructure, It was realized through a successful $41 million grant application to the Canada Foundation for Innovation . In 2003 Phillips returned to Carleton as a Canada Research Chair and co-founded GRASAC, the Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts and Cultures, to develop a digital research platform shared by Indigenous community members, academics and museums. It received the 2010 Premier’s Discovery Award in the Humanities by the Province of Ontario. In Museum Pieces: Toward the Indigenization of Canadian Museums (2011) Phillips reflects on these projects and traces the epochal changes in representation and practices which followed the contestations and postcolonial critiques of the 1980s and 90s.
Phillips’ has served as president of CIHA, the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art, is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and the recipient of the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Anthropological Association’s Council for Museum Anthropology. Her current projects include a book examining visual culture as a site of cross-cultural exchange in the Great Lakes since the 17th century and two co-edited volumes generated by the Multiple Modernisms collaboration she convened with Nicholas Thomas. Its members study 20th century Indigenous modern arts in  a global and comparative context.
Selected Recent Publications
  • Mapping Modernism: Art, Colonialism, Indigeniety, co-edited with Elizabeth Harney (In Press, Duke University Press)

  • Museum Transformations, co-edited with Annie E. Coombes, International Handbooks of Museums, 2015

  • “Aesthetic Primitivism Revisited: The global diaspora of ‘primitive art’ and the emergence of indigenous modernisms” Journal of Art Historiography 12 (2015)

  • “Wampum Unites Us: Digital Access, Interdisciplinarity and Indigenous Knowledge-Situating the GRASAC Knowledge Sharing Database,” with Heidi Bohaker and Alan Odjiig Corbiere in Raymond Silverman ed., Translating Knowledge: Global Perspectives on Museum and Community (New York: Routledge, 2014)

  • “Taking the Local Seriously,” World Art, 4:1, 2014, 17-25

  • “Reading and Writing Between the Lines: Soldiers, Curiosities, and Indigenous Art Histories,” Winterthur Portfolio, vol 45, no 2/3 (2011), 107-124

  • “ ‘Dispell All Darkness’: Jesuit and Onkwehonwe Visual and Material Mediations in Seventeenth Century North American,” Art in Translations, 2(2), 2010, pp. 171-200