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Rethinking African Collections

Maasai necklace from collections at World Museum, Liverpool

There has been a lot of media attention around African collections held in museums around the world. Museums are finding different ways to respond to the ways in which these collections should be best cared for now and into the future. In November 2019, 4 U.K. Museums launched a new project called ‘Rethinking Relationships and building trust around African collections’ which is hosted at the Horniman Museums & Gardens in London. The 4 partner museums are:

  • Horniman Museum & Gardens – London
  • Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology – Cambridge
  • Pitt Rivers Museum – Oxford
  • World Museum – Liverpool

The project is funded by The Department for Media, Culture & Sport in the U.K.

In order to best think about the collections futures, the project began by focusing on the following points:

  • Building trust with the communities that the collections came from
  • Finding out more about the collections
  • Engaging community members in conversations about the collections and their futures

As Africa is a large and diverse continent with 54 countries (and 4 disputed territories) the project decided to begin with two countries – Kenya and Nigeria.

The relationship that each country has with the U.K. has some key historical differences. The West African coast (where Nigeria is located) has trading relationships with the U.K.that are over 200 years old. Kenya is on the East African coast with a relatively more recent trading relationship that is over a century old. This is just one of the features that is reflected in the collections across the museums.

The four museums in the project were also chosen for their differences in order to get a deeper understanding about the ways in which what sort of museum can affect the relationships that they have with different communities. It was also an opportunity for different types of museums to work together.

The Horniman is an independent museum . MAA in Cambridge & Pitt Rivers in Oxford are both university museums. World Museum, Liverpool is a national museum.