By Kofi Kyeremateng Ababio
Among the museums of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, The National Museum of African Art is a meaningful part of Africa’s identity. There is no doubt that, the African Museum engages and educates every visitor, particularly people of African origin.
As a resident of metropolitan Washington, DC, a day in the museum is a great way to spend time with friends and family. The same can be said of other Africans in the diaspora, diasporan African ( not born on the continent) Afrocentric and all people with interest in African culture.
As I walked in the door, I was thrilled to see a display of collections of contemporary works of art from various regions of Africa housed in one building thousands of miles away from home. They bring personal memories and provide inspiration through personal connections to my roots and heritage.
The National Museum of African Art is one of the most extensive collections of contemporary African art, craft and accessories in the world.
The collections includes Africa’s visual arts, figurative work of arts, carvings, jewelry, paintings, drawings, gold, silver, copper alloys ( like brass and bronze) ivory, coral, glass beads ( very expensive creative work) materials such as iron and clay, horns, mud, and porcupine quills.
All of these works of African art are an integral part of African culture. They provide insight into personal taste, cultural identity, values and lifestyle through their format and composition.
They communicate information regarding Faith, tradition, gender roles,fashion, beauty, politics, community celebrations historical events and many more.
If you have ever wondered how to look at art, and African art in particular, you’ll be amazed and appreciative for their distinct talents, power and skills with which they are made.
African art is a powerful, spiritual, social, cultural and traditional medium of expression and communication that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
All African art is made for a purpose, not made as purely an artistic expressions. They signify a particular function within the various regions of African societies.
During the civil rights movement in 1963, Warren M. Robbins (1923-2008) a retired U S Foreign Service Officer established the center for cross cultural comprehension to show the rich creative heritage of Africa to accentuate the implications of African heritage in America’s quest for interracial understanding and respect.
In 1964, Warren Robbins broadened his vision and opened The Museum of African Art.
It was originally housed in a Capitol Hill town house in Washington, DC, at the time owned by
the great intellectual, abolitionist, former slave and statesman, Frederick Douglass.
The African Museum became part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1979 by an act of Congress and renamed The National Museum of African Art.
Over the course of its five decades, this museum has become home to more than 12,000 works of art among the talent and skill of diverse African artists communities.
The museum’s permanent collection is more than 7000 objects. It has created a partnership between schools and cultural institutions to prepare students and writers interested in art, craft, sculpture etc for educational purposes and activities of the Smithsonian Institution.
My favorite was when I ended up in front of gold and ivory objects. The thoughts of how these materials acquired and used? The complex histories, economies, Kingdom aesthetics behind them.
Gold and ivory are universally treasured materials. Gold in particular, sends messages of power and dignity, personal beauty, royal highness, but also the environmental destruction and desecration to the inhabitants.
Kingdoms of African gold date back to 12th century. Gold connected distant lands and people. The Arabs and Caravans carried this precious metal from the Ashanti Kingdom of Ghana northward through Mali, Senegal, Mauritania and morocco. There were other trade routes that moved gold along the east coast of Africa.
Before Ghana’s independence in 1957, Ghana was known as the Gold Coast.
It is really impossible to exit the National Museum of African Art without gaining any insight into the rich creative heritage of Africa, it’s early civilization, their diverse culture and tradition, spirituality, system of government, and everyday lifestyle of her beautiful people.