26 January 2019

British Museum Special Events focusing on African Museums.

The Africa section of the British Museum AOA department has organised two events for the afternoon of Saturday the 2nd of February that will be unmissable to anyone interested in the contemporary museum-scape in Africa.  Both events are free but booking is essential

First up at 13.30 in the Sackler Rooms is ‘Exploring narratives and community engagement in African museums’.
At this discussion, speakers from Ghana, Nigeria and the UK will present their experiences of developing museum, research and heritage projects in West Africa, including the challenges and opportunities presented by such projects. In particular, the event will explore how local narratives and community engagement can help to inform interpretations and introduce new perspectives.

Following on at 15.00 in the Stevenson Lecture Theatre is ‘The future of museum architecture in Africa: Sir David Adjaye & Hartwig Fischer in conversation’ 


At this special event, British Museum Director Hartwig Fischer joins Sir David Adjaye to discuss the future of museum construction in Africa, as well as the Museum’s own engagements with a series of ambitious new West African museum projects.

17 January 2019

Endangered Material Knowledge Programme.

The British Museum Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas recently launched a new grant programme to fund documentation of critically endangered material knowledge systems across the globe, with a focus on non-western contexts. The Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP) is a major programme to help preserve the knowledge of endangered material practices for future generations. Societies around the globe are changing at an unprecedented rate, and specialist, locally-informed knowledge is in danger of being lost - knowledge that has helped communities thrive in unique environmental, social and cultural contexts. The programme will document what we might term the ‘made world’ and how people use, build, make and repair the natural resources around them to create their distinctive societies, homes and spaces. The scope of this work will be potentially huge – material practices can range from special events, to the production and use of everyday household items like cooking implements, agricultural tools or clothes, as well the houses and buildings that people occupy.

 Funded by Arcadia – a charitable trust of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, grants will be available for digital recording of material practices, which will then be made publically available through an open access repository hosted by the Museum.

Small grants (c£15,000) and large grants (c £70,000) are available, and details of the programme and links to the application forms can be found on the British Museum website.

14 January 2019

Trading Images: Photography in the Niger Delta

Today we have another guestblog, this time Helen Anderson, Project Curator at the British Museum discusses what the museums photography collection reveals and also what it conceals.  If you wish to have a project, collection or object you are working on profiled on the MEG blog then please email web@museumethnographersgroup.org.uk  

Helen writes:

As a project curator in the Africa department at the British Museum, I have the pleasure of working on varied and interesting assignments. Over the past six months or so my focus has been identifying and cataloguing photographs attributed to the Nigerian photographer Jonathan Adagogo Green, dating to the late 19th/early 20th century of the Niger Delta.  Green ran his own studio in Bonny in the Niger Delta in 1891 until his early death in 1905 at 32 years old, and whose photographs became highly collectible by Europeans and Nigerians alike.
Jonathan Adagogo Green - At the Akquete (Akwete) Market  buying palm oil in calabashes.  (Af,A46.65 British Museum)

This photograph (one of Green’s) shows a European trader purchasing palm oil in a market in the Niger Delta, taken during the last decade of the 19th century and part of an album owned by a British palm oil trader.  The major production of palm oil lay in the interior of the Niger Delta, and oil was traded along the rivers to the ports on the coast where traders were based. The relationship between European traders in the ports and the Urhobo (or Sobo) peoples of the hinterland who produced the palm oil was mediated by local middlemen of the Delta region, the Itsekiri, some of whom became very wealthy. 

It is not always easy to understand the relationships between traders and local peoples in the Delta from the albums alone, but in the course of my research it has been possible to discover the identities and background of the owners of these albums, with surprising results. Palm oil traders could often live and work in the Niger Delta for many years, and their ongoing relationships with the Itsekiri went well beyond the economic. The stories uncovered so far show that some traders formed intimate relationships with local Itsekiri women, having children with them and, in some cases, engaging in complex sets of social and cultural relationships with local chiefs, even marrying their daughters.

Photographs can reveal a huge amount of information concerning the types of images people were collecting, the names of commercial photographers and how the same images can recur in different albums over periods of time. They demonstrate details of life for local peoples, European traders and colonial administrators. What they conceal are the specificities, the minutiae of how a palm oil trader from Liverpool marries an Itsekiri princess; what did it mean to be a child of mixed race parents in early 20th century Nigeria; to what extent did photograph albums act as a proxy for diaries, many traders never wrote down their experiences.  Our photographic collections are a valuable resource to think about the multifaceted histories and narratives at play in the Niger Delta during this complex period in history, using the camera lens as a prism through which to view these dynamic relationships.