Presentation of the CMA Distinguished Service Award, AAA 2017

The final award presented at the CMA reception in Washington DC was for the 2017 Winner of the Council for Museum Anthropology Distinguished Service Award to Dr. Howard Morphy, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Australian National University, and Honorary Curator, Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford.


A visionary of bringing cross-cultural methods and an interdisciplinary approach to museum studies, Dr. Howard Morphy’s noteworthy contributions to the study of art and anthropology, and his fierce commitment to Aboriginal Australian artists and communities for well over 40 years, is recognized by the Council for Museum Anthropology for the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award. As an emerging scholar, Dr. Morphy conducted fieldwork in northeast Arnhem Land of Australia, establishing working relationships and friendships with Yolgnu artists that continue to distinguish his pivotal arguments for inclusivity of non-European artists in the fields of art history, art criticism, and visual anthropology. His work with Arnhem Land communities on art, exhibitions, and critical legal cases is a stellar example of meaningful long-term collaboration, much also done in collaboration with Frances Morphy. Dr. Morphy’s many years working with Yolgnu artists and friends has influenced a rich collection of scholarship and exhibitions that contextualize art as inseparable from social, political, and economic processes. As a scholar of social theory, he has also been a tireless advocate for recognizing the important role that museum anthropology has played in the history of anthropology and the tremendous potential it continues to hold.


Through his curatorial and academic work at the Pitt Rivers Museum and Oxford University, Dr. Morphy pioneered a model for graduate studies, bringing together an inter-disciplinary team of scholars and museum professionals. Recognizing the strength of creating a multifaceted approach to the study and presentation of material culture, Dr. Morphy returned to Australia and developed an interdisciplinary focused graduate degree program as founding Director of the Research School of Humanities at Australian National University. As a result of his openness to collaborate with colleagues, work with students, and create residencies for Aboriginal Australian artists to cultivate cross-cultural dialogue, Dr. Morphy’s influence on museum studies, visual anthropology, and art history is far reaching. 

He is the author of several seminal works on Australian Aboriginal art including Ancestral Connections (1991) and Becoming Art: Exploring Cross Cultural Categories (2007); he is co-editor of The Anthropology of Art: A Reader (2006), and Rethinking Visual Anthropology (2007). His exhibitions include Yingapungapu, one of the inaugural exhibitions for the National Museum of Australia, and the co-curated exhibition Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation at the British Museum. Dr. Morphy has also directed, consulted on, and partnered with filmmakers, producing Journey to the Crocodiles Nest with Ian Dunlop and directing and editing We Stand on the Footprints of the Old People (2010) with Peter Eve and Ursula Frederick. In 2013 he was awarded the Huxley Memorial medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.