Last year we were fortunate enough to visit the Afrika Museum near Nijmegen in the Netherlands. This is what I wrote:
I love museums, especially little ones such as the Spade Museum at Patterson’s Spade Mill in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, or the Pencil Museum in the Lake District. We went to the British Museum about a year ago, to see a particular exhibition which was marvellous, but when we had a couple of hours spare and we wandered round some of the rest of the exhibitions, I felt a little overwhelmed by it all… so much… stuff! I guess the thing to do would be to return but just go to one section and spend time there.
Last week we went to a most marvellous museum, and although it wasn’t really huge, it was large enough – the display cases weren’t packed with items, and everything was well-spaced and well-displayed. It is a museum I would love to return to, again, and again; it was the quality and the choice and presentation of the items on display.
The museum I’m talking about is the Afrika Museum, not far from Nijmegen in the Netherlands. The museum is set in the most splendid grounds, amongst trees and with rolling countryside stretching away into the distance (yes, there were hills, not all of the Netherlands is flat!) There is an outside display area as well as what was inside.
On the day we went there was a wonderful exhibition by the photographer Jimmy Nelson, ‘Before They Pass Away’; there is a selection of the most stunning photos you could imagine of different groups of people from all across the world, sometimes living in the most remote and difficult locations, and whose culture, language and very existence is under threat from the modern world. His work is quite controversial, but I’m not going to enter that debate here; I will just say, though, that it made me think about attitudes to people we might think of as exotic – I have never been on a tour to places were tribal people in their national costumes are photographed and stared at, but I think I might feel uncomfortable doing that. Nelson has been accused of exploiting his subjects, an accusation he strongly rebuffs, but no-one can deny that his photos are extraordinary, powerful, moving, fascinating, informative and awe-inspiring… but maybe those adjectives should be attributed to the subjects of his work.
I wrote another post about some of the objects on display:
We were lucky enough to visit the marvellous Afrika Museum, near Nijmegen in the Netherlands. The museum has indoor and outdoor displays, concentrating on the culture and art of the countries of this vast and fascinating continent, including Sudan and Kenya,Mali and Benin, Gabon, Cameroon and Ghana. The outside area has reconstructions of villages from different places and it’s interesting seeing them together as you wouldn’t in reality, to compare the homes of people from different parts of Africa.
As the museum web-site says “The Afrika Museum has a unique collection of traditional and contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora (Brazil, Haiti, Cuba and the United States, to name but a few)”. The displays demonstrate how objects are perceived in different ways at different times in a society’s history, and in different ways by an outside or alien culture. Now many of these artefacts would be described as art but this wouldn’t necessarily have been how they were originally perceived. Different religions and cultural traditions shaped these objects, and we probably have little understanding of that and so perceive them and interpret them in our own way.
The museum also includes contemporary African art, and art from the peoples of the African diaspora which was a fascinating contrast to the older items on display.
Have a look at the museum’s excellent website: