Do you see it as the home of powerful nations? Do you think of intricately carved masks or fine art? Maybe you’re interested in the peoples living in Africa today.
Imagine Africa with the Penn Museum is a twelve-month project investigating your thoughts. Visitors will see a small selection from the Penn Museum’s extraordinary African collection, and will be asked for their feedback on what they see. Community groups will be invited to give us more detailed feedback. In this way, we will form a picture of what most visitors want to know about the vast continent of Africa. With this feedback, the museum will plan a re-installation of the African collection, informed by academic and community perspectives. Read about our Imagine Africa Advisory Board
Imagine Strength Our new exhibition could provide insight into the history of race and slavery in America. As part of the slave trade, many African people were forced to leave their material possessions behind, bringing with them three immeasurable strengths: skills, beliefs, and biology.Between 11 and 12 million African people had been forcibly brought to the Americas by 1850. Many enslaved Africans were brought to the colonies that would become the United States. Their contributions were integral to the economic success of our young nation, yet, the history of these people is not well known.
Imagine Changing Rites of passage exist universally. Our new exhibition could focus on African traditions while creating connections between other cultures. Many African societies view both coming of age and death as transitional periods in life. For coming of age, life shifts from a carefree childhood to the responsibility of adulthood. For death rituals, the transition is from the world of the living to the afterlife, where the spirit of the deceased may take its place among the honored ancestors. These ceremonies and traditions vary by culture and location within Africa, with different traditions for rural and urban rites. The objects on display at this table represent just a small sample of the traditions used to commemorate coming of age or death within the many cultures of Africa.
Imagine the Divine Religion can shape a culture. Our exhibition could discuss how religions shape and define the continent.
Historically, all world religions incorporated previous older beliefs as they grew and attracted new followers. The religions practiced in Africa today developed from centuries of religious and cultural exchange. Native African beliefs influenced the development of other religions throughout the ancient world. In the 1st century CE, Christianity arrived in North Africa and it quickly became the home of a thriving Christian community. Islam came to Africa soon after its founding in the 7th century, quickly spreading across North and West Africa. Today, although most people living in Africa practice Islam or Christianity, native African religions still persist. These religions do not always exist separately of each other. They often influence one another and take on new characteristics as they develop across the African continent.
Imagine Creating Our new African Gallery could be an interactive space where you could watch or practice many different crafting techniques, while learning the processes used to create objects in the collection. Africa has a long history of creating both arts and crafts. Many craft techniques originated and developed in Africa. Distinctive styles of masks, woodcarvings, brass sculptures, lost wax sculpting, pottery, and fabrics are some of the many creations to come out of Africa. Produced for both personal use and the tourist trade, some African crafts are now commodities in the global economy.
Imagine Healing Our new exhibition could share the stories of health and healing in Africa through exceptional research, modern technology, and objects. Traditional healing methods, involving plants, minerals, animal products, etc., are used daily throughout Africa. For example, Maasai healers from Kenya use plant-derived medicines to prevent and treat illnesses like malaria, sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, digestive disorders, HIV/AIDS, and arthritis, among many others. The healing compounds created by practitioners are often combined with community or family rituals to address the spiritual and emotional aspects of illness. Western treatments for these ailments may also be used, but their cost and availability often prevent it.
Imagine Power Africa is comprised of many powerful kingdoms. You could learn about them in more detail in an exhibition focused on several great kingdoms of Africa. Africa has been the homeland of many different kingdoms, dating back to 3000 BCE (before common era). The earliest kingdoms, those of Egypt and Nubia in Northeast Africa, built up great wealth for themselves, while struggling with one another for control of the area. The kingdom of Aksum, in present-day Ethiopia, represented the first empire to convert to Christianity in the 4th century CE.Each kingdom created its own political structure, traditions, and society. Many of these kingdoms were affected, destroyed, or changed by the colonial rule of the 19th century. Some traditions, however, survive to the present day. For example, the remaining Kuba people, who flourished from 1625 until European colonial rule in 1900, still use representations of royal ancestors in important masked performances.
Imagine Beauty Our new exhibition could explore concepts of African Art through traditional art pieces and everyday objects. The artistry, imagination, and skilled workmanship of great artists can be seen in a wide range of African objects. These objects can have simple functions in addition to complex social, religious, or political significance. Without words, they convey stories about beauty, strength, courage, power, or gender among many others. Although scholars can answer questions about the aesthetics of African Art, only the maker can tell us about the original meaning or function. Almost all of the objects in the Penn Museum’s African Collection can be studied simply for their artistic qualities.
Imagine FashionOur new exhibition could explore the many messages created through African fashion, both historical and contemporary. Throughout the continent of Africa, people have many traditions for expressing unique messages about their identity through their appearance. These messages are worn by individuals, but created and interpreted by the entire society. Using dolls and other tools, children are taught to create and read these messages from a young age. Many types of adornment can be changed on a whim, like jewelry, clothing, or hairstyles, while others, like tattoos and scarification, can make permanent statements of identity.
Imagine Africa Community Communications Advisory Board
Frances Aulston, President & Chief Executive Officer, West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance Glenn Bryan, Assistant Vice President, Community Relations, University of Pennsylvania Anjali Chainani, Public Relations and Special Events, Office of Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell Dr. Eric Edi, Chairman of the Board, Coalition of African Communities (AFRICOM) Oshun Bumi Fernandez, Executive Director, ODUNDE Festival Tanya Hall, Executive Director, Multicultural Affairs Congress, Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau Dr. John Jackson, Jr., Richard Perry University Professor of Communication and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania Patty Jackson, WDAS Radio Host, WDAS-FM Whitney Lopez, Paul Robeson House Volunteer, Paul Robeson House; African American Studies and Anthropology student, Community College of Philadelphia Shonda McClain, Magazine Editor, The Philadelphia Tribune Romona Riscoe Benson, President & Chief Executive Officer, The African American Museum in Philadelphia Hon. Stanley Straughter, Chairman, Mayor’s Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs Dr. Vera Tolbert, President, Coalition of African Communities (AFRICOM) Patricia Washington, Vice President, Cultural Tourism, Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation Don Wiggins, Director of Local Sales, WDAS-FM Dr. Marcia Wilkof, President, mvwGroup; Democratic Ward Leader, 30th Ward (Southwest Center City) Dr. Tukufu Zuberi, Director, Center for Africana Studies and Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations, University of Pennsylvania