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Kristin Otto

Kristin Otto

Contact Info
University Museum

Expertise: Museum Anthropology, Anthropology


I am a museum anthropologist and curator specializing in the study of material culture and the anthropology of art in connection to museum collections. In my work I emphasize the relationality of museum collections—the capacity of an object to connect with materials, people, ideas, and places far beyond the its physical existence—and the centrality of these relationships in museum practice and material culture research. 

Current Research

I am particularly interested in the themes of making and repairing, including how these processes connect us to material culture both within museum spaces and outside them. My recent research in this area has focused on material culture from West Africa.
In my recent dissertation research, I traced the layered process of repairing sowei masks as they circulate from performative spaces in West Africa into Western markets, collections, and institutions. During the process of collections-based research and qualitative research with people that repair, I found that many of these masks had been repaired in specific ways as they circulated. I argue that repair materially interprets the sowei mask as enters new social orders, which shows how the process of creating is never finished. I am currently looking to expand this research on repair to different areas of museum collections to think through how repair can help us understand object histories (biographies, itineraries) and the people, ideas, and materials connected with them better.
Outside of my research on repair, I enjoy connecting museum collections with process of making, individual artists, and communities of origin. In 2018 I curated an exhibition on Ghanaian figurative coffins—entitled “Shapes of the Ancestors: Bodies, Animals, and Ghanaian Fantasy Coffins”—at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures at Indiana University based on ethnographic research with artists at Paa Joe Coffin Works in Accra, Ghana (which you can read about in Museum Anthropology Review). During the summer of 2019 I collaborated with the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the living descent community in Shenge, Sierra Leone to facilitate conversations around the archival and object collections of anthropologist Henry Usher Hall. I welcome such opportunities to collaborate on projects involving the University Museum collections.


  • ANTH 345/545: Introduction to Museology / Advanced Museology
  • ANTH 497/508: Museum Anthropology/Advanced Museum Anthropology

Any student interested an internship for credit in the University Museum (ANTH 385/597)—or any other opportunities connected to the museum—are welcome to contact me to discuss their interests. Any faculty interested in incorporating the museum, its collections, or object-based learning opportunities into their courses should also feel free contact me.

Museum Anthropology in Action

Imaging a sowei mask, 2019. (Smithsonian NMNH E415270, photo by E. Keats Webb)
Daniel Anum Jasper painting a lion palanquin at Paa Joe Coffin Works, Accra, Ghana, 2017.
Inside the original United Brethren Church (UBC) in Shenge, Sierra Leone, 2019.
“Shapes of the Ancestors” exhibition at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, 2018.