EU shipping is temporarily suspended


Indigenous Art / Colonial Culture / Decolonization

Nicholas Thomas


A timely re-examination of European engagements with indigenous art and the presence of indigenous art in the contemporary art world

Also available as an eBook from Online store, Online store


The arts of Africa, Oceania and Native America famously inspired twentieth-century modernist artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Ernst. The politics of such stimulus, however, have long been highly contentious: was this a cross-cultural discovery to be celebrated, or just one more example of Western colonial appropriation?

Highly acclaimed on first publication, and now revised and updated, this revelatory book explores cross-cultural art through the lens of settler societies such as Australia and New Zealand, where Europeans made new nations, displacing but never eclipsing Native peoples. In this dynamic of dispossession and resistance, settler artists and designers have drawn upon Indigenous motifs and styles in their search for distinctive identities, while powerful Indigenous art traditions have asserted the presence of First Nations peoples and their claims to place, history and sovereignty. Cultural exchange is a two-way process, and an unpredictable one: contemporary Indigenous art draws on global contemporary practice, but moves beyond a bland affirmation of hybrid identities to uphold the enduring values and attachment to place of Indigenous peoples.

For anyone with an interest in the current debates about decolonization, Indigenous culture and the history of art, this is essential reading.

Read More


'One of the most interesting and articulate books written about art made in a non-Western, colonial site … This is not the view of an outsider, but of an insider … marvellous'
Svetlana Alpers

'A pioneering text in postcolonial art history'
Rosalind Polly Blakesley, University of Cambridge

'Possessions intelligently and sensitively navigates the relationship between indigenous and settler cultures in Australia and New Zealand'
Geoffrey Batchen, University of Oxford

'In this re-issue of his ground-breaking book Possessions, Thomas provides what many of us in settler colonies are currently grappling with: the need to assess where we have been in the project of decolonising art and art history, and the need to re-think where we are now'
Peter Brunt, Victoria University, Wellington

'[Thomas's] writing is spare, elegant and persuasive'
Marina Vaizey, The Art Newspaper

'This book has implications that extend far beyond the anthropology of art... unusual and innovative'
American Anthropologist

'Thomas operates at the mental border-post where art criticism, sociology, anthropology and history fade into each other … Civilised, judicious, at ease with uneasy perspectives, Thomas marks in 'Possessions' the apotheosis of modern anthropology'
The Australian

'Possessions has ensured that settler-colonial and Indigenous histories from the eighteenth century onward can never again be separated but are perceived as entangled narratives... a major statement'
Tim Barringer, Yale University

'A prescient, foundational study'
Ruth Phillips, Carleton University, Ottawa

'An astute and dynamic analysis of colonialism [Thomas provides] a powerful, transdisciplinary theoretical and methodological model for understanding the varied practices—from appropriation to appreciation, from resistance to resilience—by which art mediates the colonial encounter for both settlers and Indigenous peoples'
Aaron Glass, Bard Graduate Centre, New York

'Significantly reframes the old issue of the relationship between primitivism and modernism'
Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

'[Thomas is] a writer of the rarest quality'
Simon Winchester

Read More

Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Edition Type: New Edition

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 368 pp

Illustrations: 181

Publication date: 7 July 2022

ISBN: 9780500296592

About the Author

Nicholas Thomas, Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge since 2006, is author of many books on art, history and empire in the Pacific. Over 2018-19, he co-curated 'Oceania' for the Royal Academy of Arts and Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac. He was awarded the 2010 Wolfson History Prize for his book Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire.

Related Topics