Anthony Shelton

DPhil (Oxford)

MLitt, BA (Hull)

I have been Director of the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia since August 2004. A researcher, curator, teacher and administrator, my interests include Latin American, Iberian and African visual cultures, Surrealism, the history of collecting, and critical museology. Before coming to UBC I held curatorial positions at the British Museum, The Royal Pavilion, Art Gallery and Museum’s Brighton, the Horniman Museum, London, and academic appointments at the University of Sussex, University College, London and the University of Coimbra. I have been the Portuguese representative to ASEMUS (Asia-Europe Museums Network), and sat on the international advisory boards for the construction and development of the Humboldt Forum, Berlin and the Asian Cultural Complex, Gwangju.

Research Interests

Critical Museology. The development of a critical epistemology and methodology for museum studies and for devising new exhibition genres. Relationship between museums, the nation state and globalization in Europe and Latin America. Museums, collecting and colonial appropriation in Latin America (including the American Southwest). The history of exhibitions.

Mexican historiography and the use of archaeology and art history in constructing national identity. Regional and Indigenous resistance to national narratives and visual regimes in Mexico, Guatemala and Peru. The Cuzco School, colonial religious painting and the emergence of vernacular religions. Influence of pre-Columbian Andean culture on Argentinian design.

The history of anthropological and art historical approaches to non-Western art, variations between national schools. Social and philosophical anthropological approaches to the relationship between aesthetics and culture, and aesthetics and history. The construction of primitivist tropes of ‘otherness’.


2016. Conferred the Title of ‘Cavaleiro’, Brotherhood of Port Wine for the exhibition, Heaven, Hell and Somewhere In-Between.

2016. Canadian Museums Association. Award for Outstanding Achievement (Research / Cultural Heritage). Heaven, Hell and Somewhere in Between: Portuguese Popular Art, Museum of Anthropology, UBC.

I have published extensively in the areas of visual culture, museology, history of collecting and the cultural history of Mexico. Principal works include Art, Anthropology and Aesthetics (with J. Coote eds., 1992); Museums and Changing Perspectives of Culture (1995); Fetishism. Visualizing Power and Desire (1995); Collectors: Individuals and Institutions (2001); Collectors: Expressions of Self and Others (2001); Luminescence. The Silver of Peru (2012), and Heaven, Hell and Somewhere In-Between. Portuguese Popular Culture (2015).


Selected articles and book chapters include:

2016. European Ethnography and World Cultures Museums. Positioning Ethnological Museums in the 21st Century. Museumskunde. Herausgegeben vom Deutchen Museumsbunde 81, 1/16. Pp. 20-27.

2014. Re-totalizing Culture. Breathing the Intangible into Museum Practice. Ethnologies 36, 1-2. Pp. 207-234.

2013. Critical Museology. A Manifesto. Museum Worlds. 1, 1. Pp. 7-23.

2013. Dreaming with Open Eyes. Mexicanizing Surrealism; Remembering Mexico. In N. Levell (ed.), The Marvellous Real: Mexican Art 1926-2011. Berkeley and Vancouver, Figure 1 publishers and MOA. Pp. 33-58.

2011. 42, Rue Fontaine. In D. Ades and J. Penner (eds.), The Colour of My Dreams: The Surrealist Revolution in Art. Vancouver and Toronto, Douglas and McIntyre Publishing. Pp. 211-217.

2009. The Public Sphere as Wilderness: Le Musée du quai Branly. Museum Anthropology 23, 1. Pp. 1-16.

2007. The Collectors Zeal: Towards an Anthropology of Intentionality, Instrumentality and Desire. In P. ter Keurs (ed.), Colonial Collections Revisited. Leiden, CNWS. Pp. 16-44.

2006. Museums and Museum Displays. In C. Tilley, W. Keane, S. Keuchler, M. Rowlands and P. Spyer (eds.), Handbook of Material Culture. London, Sage. Pp 480-499.

2006. Museums and Anthropologies. Practices and Narratives. In S. McDonald (ed.), A Companion to Museum Studies. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing. Pp. 64-80.

2005. The Imaginary Southwest: Commodity Disavowal in an American Orient. In M. Coquet, B. Derlon and M. Jeudy-Ballini (eds.), Les cultures à l’ouvre Recontres en art. Paris, Biro éditeur. Pp. 75-96.

2003. Curating African Worlds. In L. Peers and A. Brown (eds.), Museums and Source Communitie: A Routledge Reader. London and New York, Routledge. Pp. 181-193.

2001. Museums in an Age of Cultural Hybridity. Folk. Journal of the Danish Ethnographic Society 43. Pp. 221-249.

2000. Museum Ethnography. An Imperial Science. In E. Hallam and B. Street (eds.). Cultural Encounters. Representing Otherness. London and New York, Routledge. Pp. 155-193.

1996. Fetishism’s Culture. In N. Sinclaire (ed.), The Chameleon Body. Photographs of Contemporary Fetishism. London, Lund Humphries. Pp. 82-

1995. Dispossessed Histories: Mexican Museums and the Institutionalisation of the Past. In A. Shelton (ed.), Museums and Changing Perspectives of Culture. Cultural Dynamics 7.1. Pp. 69-100.

1994. Cabinets for Transgressions: Renaissance Collections and the Incorporation of the New World. In J. Elsnor and R. Cardinal (eds.), The Cultures of Collecting. London, Reaktion Books. Pp. 177-203.

1992. Predicates of Aesthetic Judgement: Ontology and Value in Huichol Material Expressions. In A. Shelton and J. Coote (eds.), Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics. Oxford, Clarendon Press. Pp. 209-244.

1992. The Aztec Cihuateteo: An Image of the Apocalyptic Woman. In N, Saunders and O. Montmollin (eds.), Contributions to New World Archaeology. Oxford, Oxbow Books, Pp 1-17.

1991. Unsettling the Meaning. Critical Museology, Art and Anthropological Discourse. Focaal Tijdschrift voor antropologie 34. Pp. 143-161.

Perhaps the most influential of the fourteen exhibitions I have curated or co-curated, were African Worlds (Horniman Museum 1999-2016), the first permanent gallery on Africa and its contribution to world civilization in the UK; Fetishism (Southbank Touring Exhibitions 1995); an exhibition that deconstructed the successive use of the term in 19th century anthropology, psychiatry and psychanalysis, commodity consumption, and the 20th century European club scene, and Epic, Dream, Satire. Puppet Theatre (Brighton Museum 1991-1992), which focused on animation and the play of ambiguity between the inert and the animate world. Since arriving in Canada in 2004, I have curated Luminescence. The Silver of Peru (MOA 2012), on light in pre and post-Columbian Indigenous and European religious narratives, art and ritual, and Heaven, Hell and Somewhere In-Between. Portuguese Popular Art (MOA 2015), on folk art, politics and national identity. I have curated seven artist shows including Shirley Chubb (Brighton 1995), Sonia Boyce (Brighton 1995). Godfried Donker (Horniman Museum 1998), Osi Audu (Horniman museum 1997). Currently I am curating with Nicky Levell, Mexican Masks. An Assembly of Imaginary Beings for the Museu do Cidade, Lisbon, which will open July 2017. I am also working on an exhibitions on 20th century African visual culture and another on ideas of the night.

  1. University of East Anglia. Understanding Pre-Columbian Art. BA. Department of World Art Studies.

1993-1998. University of Sussex. Devised and taught the first MA in Critical Museology, School of Culture and Communication; Critical Museology and Non-Western Art. BA, School of African and Asian Studies.

1991-2001. University College London. MA in Museum Anthropology, Department of Anthropology.

2001-2004. University of Coimbra. Comparative Ethnography (Latin America); Ethnographic Museology; History of Anthropological Theory (All BA). Space and Ideologies in the Pre-Hispanic World; Goods and Peoples in Latin America. MA. Department of Anthropology.

2004-2016. University of British Columbia. Anth 541b / CCST 502. Seminar in Advanced Museum Theory. MA. Department of Anthropology.