Africa's History, Cultures Find a Voice at Museum

By Beving, Sue | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 11, 1999 | Go to article overview

Africa's History, Cultures Find a Voice at Museum


Beving, Sue, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


"African Voices," a new permanent exhibition, opens Wednesday at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.

The 6,500-square-foot exhibit, called the centerpiece of the museum's ongoing $5.5 million African Voices Project, explores the people, culture and history of Africa. It tells stories of the continent through more than 400 objects from the museum's collection, photographs, film, video interactives and sound stations.

" `African Voices' celebrates Africa as a historic and living entity with contemporary and future relevance," museum Director Robert Fri says in a prepared statement. "It demonstrates how African cultures have spread worldwide - becoming a part of the very fabric of American life - and encourages people to look beyond the existing stereotypes and assumptions about Africa and Africans."

The museum uses proverbs and adages, with commentary from historical and living people, to bring the stories to life.

The "History Corridor," featuring 10 stories that date to 5 million years ago, runs down the center of the exhibition.

"History Moments" include the story of human origins in Africa, the rule of Nubian Pharaohs in the ancient Nile Valley, the rise of ancient cities, the rule of African Muslims in the 11th century, the Atlantic slave trade and the 19th-century trade revolution. Other "Moments" are the rise and fall of colonialism, the emergence of independent African nations and South Africa's freedom struggles. A changing section will focus on the contemporary challenges Africa faces.

Four theme galleries - Living in Africa, Global Africa, Wealth in Africa and Enterprising Africa - open off the History Corridor.

Highlights from the exhibition include an aqal, a contemporary portable Somali house.

The permanent hall will feature three changing exhibits. The inaugural temporary exhibit in the Focus Gallery will have 16 sculptured works by Nigerian artist Lamidi Olonade Fakeye. He is identified as a traditional Yoruba artist who also teaches art at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria.

A changing exhibit in the Global Africa gallery explores Afro-Brazilian religions. A video illustrates Afro-Caribbean religious practices in New York City. The "Contemporary History" Moment highlights a community children's health project in Kenya.

Museum officials have raised only $375,000 of the $5.5 million needed for the entire African Voices Project. …

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