Ruth Phillips
RCMC/FEL Distinguished Fellow | 2019

Ruth Phillips

Ruth Phillips is the RCMC/FEL Distinguished Fellow for February and March 2019.


Ruth B. Phillips is Canada Research Professor and Professor of Art History at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Her doctoral work at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies was grounded in collections-based research and fieldwork in West Africa and published as Representing Woman: Sande Masquerades of the Mende of Sierra Leone (1995). Phillips’ subsequent research has focused on the Indigenous arts of North America with a focus on the Great Lakes region. Her publications in this field include Trading Identities: The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast (1998) and Native North American Art for the Oxford History of Art, co-authored with Janet Catherine Berlo (2nd edition, 2015). Phillips’ work in critical museology was stimulated by curatorial projects, in particular by her participation in the curatorial committee for The Spirit Sings : Artistic Expressions of Canada’s First Peoples, a 1988 exhibition that sparked an international controversy.

In Museum Pieces: Toward the Indigenization of Canadian Museums (2011) she explores a twenty-five year period of contestation and innovation in Canadian museology that preceded and followed from this exhibition. As director of the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology Phillips initiated a major program of renewal of the museum’s virtual and physical research infrastructure. Most recently, she has co-chaired a multi-year collaboration with scholars  in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and the UK who study Indigenous modernisms. With Elizabeth Harney, she co-edited its first publication, Mapping Modernisms: Art, Indigeneity, Colonialism, published in 2018. Phillips has served as President of CIHA, the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art, and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.


As a RCMC/FEL Distinguished Fellow, Phillips will continue work on two current book projects. The first, Seeing Through Translation:Visual and Cultural Exchange in the Great Lakes, examines Great Lakes Indigenous artistic production as a critical site of cross cultural exchange. It traces shifts in Indigenous and settler concepts of art and in the major sites of exchange from 17thcentury missionary conversion to 18thcentury military alliance to19thcentury settler society to the 20thcentury emergence of Indigenous fine art production. The second, Mediating Modernisms: Artist and Mentors in Colonial and Indigenous Artworlds, is an edited volume examining the internal and cross-cultural and interactions that lie behind the emergence of Indigenous modernist arts around the world. She will also work with Dutch collections in two areas – Mende Sande Society masks from Sierra Leone, and the arts of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Ottawa, Potawatomi) peoples from North America – with a focus on the development of decolonial strategies of display and interpretation.

About FEL

The Fund for Ethnology in Leiden (FEL) tries to improve our shared knowledge and awareness of the marvels of the world’s visual and material culture, and to enhance collaboration between Leiden University, National Museum for Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde), and other international centres for the study of world heritage. The Fund was an independent foundation and has been discontinued since 2018. It is now an earmarked fund at the Research Center for Material Culture. The Fund continues to support the annual and public Adriaan Gerbrands Lecture, the RCMC/FEL Junior Fellowship program and the RCMC/FEL Distinguished Fellowship program.

Read more about RCMC/FEL programs here.