Africa and the British Museum

The British Museum curates collections of material and visual culture relating to indigenous people across the African continent and to the cultures and societies of the diaspora, including objects as well as digital and non-digital photographs.

Explore the diversity of the African continent in the Sainsbury African Galleries which permanently displays art and material culture from early history to the present.

Learn about the collaborative research projects of our curators and the pioneering exchange and skills-sharing programmes with our partners in Africa.



Background image: Caption: Otobo (Hippo) masquerade of the Kalabari people, southern Nigeria. Made by Sokari Douglas Camp, 1995

The British Museum curates collections of material and visual culture relating to indigenous people across the African continent and to the cultures and societies of the diaspora, including objects as well as digital and non-digital photographs.

Explore the diversity of the African continent in the Sainsbury African Galleries which permanently displays art and material culture from early history to the present.

Learn about the collaborative research projects of our curators and the pioneering exchange and skills-sharing programmes with our partners in Africa.

The Africa collections

Through historical and more recent objects, contemporary artworks and photographs, the British Museum collection highlights the diversity of Africa and its cultures, celebrating creativity and the continent’s continued global connections, and telling the story of Africa from the Palaeolithic to the present day. The Museum works in partnership with African colleagues to subvert existing stereotypes, reflect critically upon historical events, and support established and emerging artists.

Highlights from the collections include: silk textiles from Ghana; wooden sculpture from the Democratic Republic of Congo; brass plaques and sculptures from the Kingdom of Benin, Nigeria; secular and religious paintings from Ethiopia; Palaeolithic stone tools from Tanzania; and striking works by contemporary artists from across the continent.

Researching the collections

The collections form the basis of the department’s research activity, with our most recent projects focusing on historical and digital images, bronze castings from eastern Nigeria, and raffia textiles and items of clothing from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Museum also acknowledges difficult histories, including the contested means by which some collections have been acquired, such as through military action. The British Museum is actively engaged in re-examining the acquisition histories of such collections and caring for them with appropriate respect in close dialogue with African partners.

Curators work collaboratively with other Museum colleagues and external partners to publish and present new research, which is incorporated into the Museum’s online database to provide wider public access.

Much of this research work is supported by external grants. The AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award Scheme also enables the Museum to support students to undertake research on the collections.

Analysing Igbo–Ukwu: bronze castings from 800-900 AD Nigeria

Partnerships, outreach and engagement

From 2005, the Africa Programme has been working collaboratively with partner institutions in Africa. The Programme delivers in-situ training workshops in museum practice that are tailored to local contexts. Colleagues also travel to the UK for project-based work placements at the Museum and in regional partner museums.

The annual International Training Programme also offers opportunities for African colleagues to meet peers from global heritage institutions.

Numerous projects within and outside the Museum use the African collections in travelling UK loans and in community outreach to research, explore, and display objects in different contexts and with new interpretations.

Past exhibitions and international loans

A key element of the section’s public access responsibility is to develop displays in permanent galleries and temporary exhibitions at the Museum. In addition, there is an active programme of international loans with partner institutions.

Exhibition projects are usually focused around the collections and often support current research projects, using objects to explore historical and contemporary social, political and cultural issues.

Increasingly, projects are being developed with African partners in Africa, often in support of new museum developments on the continent. Collaborative exhibitions have taken place in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria.

Below are links to some of the Museum’s recent exhibitions focusing on Africa:

 

South Africa: the art of a nation

South Africa:
the art of a nation

27 October 2016 – 26 February 2017

Sunken Cities

Sunken Cities:
Egypt's lost worlds

19 May – 27 November 2016