Lauren Barnes

Working Title of PhD

(Mis)Representing Korea: Collectors, Museums and their role in shaping public perceptions of the Korean Peninsula (1884 – Present)

Overview of PhD

My research project seeks to understand how, when, and why Korean objects and art have travelled through space and time, from Korea to UK museum collections, and the subsequent implications of collecting Korea for UK museums today. My research spans from the first UK museum collections in the early 1880s to museum collecting of Korea in the present day and gathers collections data from all UK museums with known Korean collections.

To understand the broader patterns of collecting by UK museums, my research moves away from traditional methodologies of object biography and instead implements Historical Geographical Information Systems (HGIS) mapping of collecting moments to visualise the movements of Korean objects through time and space to UK museums. HGIS is a critical method in the early stages of my research where it will be used to pinpoint moments of collecting / non-collecting of Korea by UK museums. Once the moments of significance for collecting Korea have been identified, these will be further analysed using a spatial histories approach, which takes into consideration both the large- and small-scale factors that have affected collecting. It is anticipated that the research will uncover broad trends, collection journeys, and the complex histories of collecting Korea. The findings of this research will open up debate about the implications of museum acquisition of these objects and provide insight into how Korean collections fit into debates around ‘decolonisation of the museum’ and contested histories of museum practice.

It is further hoped that this methodology can be applied to understand the object journeys of other museum collections.


In addition to my PhD research, I currently work at Northumbria University’s University Gallery as Lim Ai Fang Fellow where I have responsibilities for the curation, care, and public engagement with the western contemporary art and Asian collections. Prior to this I worked as Senior Curator for the Faith Museum at the Auckland Project which, when open, will explore faith in the British Isles. I have also held several positions at The Oriental Museum, part of Durham University, where I have researched their extensive South Asian collection, curated their permanent Korea gallery, several other exhibitions, and managed community engagement projects. I am interested in contemporary collecting in museums and alongside spearheading several successful acquisition proposals at both the Oriental Museum and the Auckland Project, I was successful in acquiring contemporary ceramic work at ArtFund COLLECT 2013. I was recently invited back to The Oriental Museum to curate my own photography exhibition ‘The Hills are High’ based on my time teaching and travelling in South Korea.

I hold a BA(hons) in Human Geography (2008) and an MPrac in Museum Practice (2012) - both from Newcastle University.

Past Curatorial Projects


  • The Hills are High - Personal photography exhibition, Oriental Museum, Durham University (Curator, Researcher, Artist)


  • No Stigma Attached, Oriental Museum, Durham University (Organiser of community-led exhibition)
  • Permanent Gallery: The Roberts Gallery of South Asia, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Oriental Museum, Durham University (Community Access Officer, Gallery research and development)
  • The Enlightened One: Printed Buddhist Art, Oriental Museum, Durham University (Research and development)


  • Embracing the Divine: exploring Hindu Faith, Devotion and Celebration, The Dorman Museum, Middlesbrough (Curator)
  • Re-interpreting the Korean Moon Jar, Oriental Museum, Durham University in partnership with Hyosun Kim, (Curator)
  • From the Mountains to the Sea, Oriental Museum, Durham University (Curator)


  • White on White, Oriental Museum, Durham University in partnership with Gallery LVS, South Korea (Curator)
  • Permanent Gallery: Rutt Gallery of Korea, Oriental Museum, Durham University (Curator)