for exchange and
The British Museum has been working with the Cultural Heritage (formerly Ethnography) Department at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) since 2005.
The first major project delivered through this partnership was the pioneering Hazina: Traditions, Trade and Transitions in Eastern Africa loan exhibition from the British Museum in 2006-7. Building on that success the BM-NMK team has developed further exhibition projects and undertaken a major storage renovation programme.
These projects aim to empower staff at the National Museums of Kenya to take responsibility for the management and presentation of collections through a combination of knowledge transfer, skills sharing and practical application.
Map of Kenya showing the locations
of partner organisations
The Cultural Heritage store before refurbishment in 2007
The objects are removed from the store and renovation work begins, September 2008
Members of the National Museum of Kenya renovation team, from left - right: Samuel Mwiti, Ray Balongo, Anthony Mwangi and Wyclife Amudavi, December 2008
The Kenyan team learn to hang wallpaper, December 2008
The refurbished store with new lights, screened windows and non-slip floor surface, March 2009>
The new space benefits from a large study room, office and workshop, March 2010
The store is officially opening in December 2010 by the Director General, Dr Idle Farah
Renovating cultural heritage in Nairobi
The re-development of the ethnographic collections storage facilities was identified as a priority for future collaboration following discussions with senior staff at NMK after the Hazina exhibition. In 2008 work began on the removal of the objects from the storage space and the demolition of the old store rooms.
Africa Programme staff ran practical workshops throughout the three year renovation process teaching key skills in collections care, documentation and preventive conservation. Every aspect of the renovation was carried out by the dedicated NMK team from raising the ceiling and re-boarding the loft space, to applying UV film to the windows and laying vinyl floor tiles.
This long-term project, funded primarily through the UK government’s World Collections Programme, was completed in NMK’s centenary year 2010.
The Cultural Heritage Department now has accessible storage as well as a new study room, wet room and workshop. These new facilities have enabled NMK staff to manage the ethnographic collections more effectively and to ensure the preservation and security of their cultural heritage.
The kanga workshop team, Nairobi, December 2010
Musa Oyugi (Kitale Museum) and Chole Kizili (Kisumu Museum) making sample kanga mounts, December 2010
Eileen Musundi and Juma Ondeng’ (Nairobi National Museum) glueing fabric to foamcore boards, December 2010
Wyclife Amudavi (Nairobi National Museum) ironing the glued fabric to the completed board, December 3, 2010
George Gandi (Fort Jesus, Mombasa) sewing a kanga to the board, December 2010
A completed kanga mounted on a fabric-covered board, December 2010
The Exhibitions team completing fibreglass casts of a female mannequin for Kanga Stories, June 2011
Kangas suspended on boards in the Kanga Stories exhibition, July 2011
NMK was keen to generate its own temporary touring exhibitions and in 2009 the Africa Programme started to work with the Cultural Heritage and Exhibitions teams to develop a display focusing on kanga (a printed cloth used primarily as clothing in East Africa). A research programme was instigated through the Cultural Heritage department with external support and funding to develop the exhibition structure and content.
NMK has significant existing collections of kanga and the project enabled these collections to be fully documented and photographed. Additional contemporary kanga were acquired to complement these earlier pieces.
In December 2010 the Africa Programme organised a kanga mount making and installation workshop for staff from Nairobi, Kisumu, Kitale and Mombasa museums.
Kanga Stories opened on 13 July 2011 at Nairobi Gallery. It is anticipated that it will travel to venues on the coast and to western Kenya in the autumn.