Magazine article History Today

African Galleries. (Letters)

Magazine article History Today

African Galleries. (Letters)

Article excerpt

The appreciation of African history, arts and cultures has been impoverished by the type of labelling (`pigeonholing') advocated by Julian Spalding (April, 2002). Western notions of the tribe, the Orient and the Arab World create a picture of Africa as a number of units, somehow hermetically sealed from one another and denied the normal dynamics of cross-cultural and historical exchange accorded to the rest of the world. Yet in criticising the African galleries at the British Museum, Mr Spalding insists that `it is totally misleading to put Islamic, Christian and tribal artefacts together in one case'. One wonders where Mr Spalding would place an Ethiopian cotton dress, the material woven by a Dorze (tribal?) man from the south, embroidered in rayon and lurex by a Muslim (Islamic?) man, probably in a northern town, using cruciform (Christian?) designs. Where too would he place its 19th-century forerunner, with its base cloth made in Manchester and its embroidery in Chinese silk?

Mr Spalding complains the objects in the galleries are arranged `by what they were made of rather than what they are used for', and that they are `jumbled together regardless of date'. In fact technological groupings (textiles, pottery, brass-casting etc) allow objects and audience to become involved in a much more profound debate. …

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