Lissant Bolton

Lissant Bolton is an anthropologist who specialises in the Pacific. Her research focuses on gender and kastom in Vanuatu, and on the indigenous use of collections and cultural knowledge. She has a specific interest in textiles, and has also written about issues relating to museums and indigenous communities.

She has worked in Vanuatu annually since 1989, collaborating with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VKS) in the development of programmes to document and revive women’s knowledge and practice. This programme, the Women’s Culture Project, holds annual training workshops for ni-Vanuatu women extension workers, which Bolton chairs for the VKS. She has made a number of films with the VKS for use in Vanuatu.

© Benedict Johnson

Bolton lead-curated the permanent gallery Living and Dying (2003), and curated the exhibitions Power and Taboo: Sacred Objects from the Pacific (2006), and Baskets and Belonging: Indigenous Australian Histories (2011) all for the British Museum.

She has been Keeper of Africa, Oceania and the Americas since 2012.

From 2018 onwards, she is the Director of the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme.

Current projects

Director, Endangered Material Knowledge Programme.

The Relational Museum and its Objects, Australian Research Council Linkage Grant made to the Australian Nacional University with the National Museum of Australia and the British Museum.

Previous projects

Clothing the Pacific (Joint research project with University College, London and Goldsmiths College, University of London

Melanesian Art: Objects Narratives and Indigenous Owners
(Joint Research Project with Goldsmiths College, University of London).

Engaging Objects: Indigenous Communities, museum collections and the representation of indigenous histories Australian Research Council Linkage Grant with the Australian National University and the National Museum of Australia (2011-14).

Recent Publications

L. Bolton, 2018. ‘A tale of two figures: Knowledge around objects in museum collections (L’histoire de deux figures: savoir lié aux objets dans les collections des musées)’. Le Journal de la Société des Océanistes 146 (Special Issue: Le Sepik: société et production matérielle) pp.87-98 URL:

L. Bolton, 2017. ‘Anthony Forge and Innovation: perspectives from Vanuatu’. In Forge Anthony, (edited by Alison Clark and Nicholas Thomas) Style and Meaning: Essays on the anthropology of art. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

L. Bolton, 2015. ‘Moving Objects: Indigenous Australia in the British Museum’. In Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum. Canberra: National Museum of Australia.

L. Bolton, 2015. ‘An Ethnography of Repatriation: Engagements with Erromango, Vanuatu’. In Coombes, AE and Phillips, RB, (eds.) International Handbooks of Museum Studies, Volume IV: Museum Transformations. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

L. Bolton, 2015. ‘Women and Customary Land Tenure in Vanuatu: Changing Understandings’. In Hviding Edvard and Geoffrey White (eds) Pacific Alternatives: Cultural Politics in Contemporary Oceania. Canon Pyon: Sean Kingston Publishing

B. Burt and L. Bolton (eds.), The things we value: Culture and History in Solomon Islands (Oxon: Sean Kingston Publishing, 2014)

L. Bolton, Nicholas Thomas, Elizabeth Bonshek, Julie Adams and Ben Burt (eds.), Melanesia: Art and Encounter (London: British Museum Press, 2013)

Brunt, Peter, Sean Mallon, Nicholas Thomas, Deidre Brown, Lissant Bolton, Suzanne Kuchler and Damian Skinner (co-authors), Art in Oceania: A New History (London: Thames and Hudson, 2012) (personal contribution: 4 chapters, 2 co-authored chapters, 5 features)

L. Bolton, ‘Describing Knowledge and Practice in Vanuatu’, in Hviding E. and K.M. Rio (eds.) Made in Oceania: Social Movements, Cultural Heritage and the State in the Pacific (Wantage: Sean Kingston Publishing, 2011) pp 301-319

L. Bolton, ‘Framing the art of West Papua: an introduction’, in L. Bolton and N Stanley (eds.) The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Special Issue: Framing the Art of West Papua 12(4) (2011) pp.317-326

L. Bolton and N. Stanley (eds.), Framing the Art of West Papua. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Special Issue 12(4) (2011)

L. Bolton, ‘Los textiles y la vida’, in Mondragón, Carlos (ed.) Moana: Culturas de las Islas del Pacífico (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2010) pp. 67-72

L. Bolton, ‘Explorers and Traders of South Papua’, in I. McCalman and N. Erskine (eds.) In the Wake of the Beagle: Science in the Southern Oceans from the Age of Darwin (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2009) pp. 108-123

L. Bolton, ‘Living and Dying: Ethnography, class and aesthetics in the British Museum’, in D. Sherman (ed.) Museums and Difference (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007) pp. 330-353

L. Bolton, ‘‘Island dress that belongs to us all’: Mission dresses and the innovation of tradition in Vanuatu’ in E. Ewart and M. O’Hanlon (eds.) Body Arts and Modernity (Wantage: Sean Kingston Publishing, 2007) pp. 165-182

M. Rodman, D. Kramer, L. Bolton and J. Tarisesei (eds.) House-girls Remember: Domestic Workers in Vanuatu (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007)

L. Bolton, ‘Resourcing Change: Fieldworkers, the Women’s Culture Project and the Vanuatu Cultural Centre’, in N. Stanley (ed.) The Future of Indigenous Museums: Perspectives from the Southwest Pacific (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007) pp. 23-37

L. Bolton, ‘The museum as cultural agent: the Vanuatu Cultural Centre extension worker program’, in C. Healy, and A. Witcomb (eds.) South Pacific Museums: Experiments in Culture (Melbourne: Monash University ePress, 2006)

L. Bolton, ‘Power of the gods’, British Museum Magazine, 56 (2006) pp. 24-27

L. Bolton, ‘Dressing for Transition: Weddings, Clothing and Change in Vanuatu’, in S. Kuechler and G. Were (eds.), Pacific Clothing: the Art of Experience (London: UCL Press, 2005) pp. 19-32

L. Bolton, ‘The effect of objects: the return of a north Vanuatu textile from the Australian Museum to the Vanuatu Cultural Centre’, in V.Attenbrow and R.Fullagar (eds.) A Pacific Odyssey: Archaeology and Anthropology in the Western Pacific. Papers in Honour of Jim Specht Records of the Australian Museum, Supplement 29. (Sydney: Australian Museum, 2004) pp. 31-36

L. Bolton, Unfolding the moon: Enacting Women’s Kastom in Vanuatu (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003)