African Voices

December 15, 1999 – Permanent
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National Museum of Natural History
10th St. & Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC

1st Floor, Northeast Wing, African Cultures Hall

See on map Floor Plan

This exhibition examines the diversity, dynamism, and global influence of Africa's peoples and cultures over time in the realms of family, work, community, and the natural environment. Included are historical and contemporary objects from the museum's collections, as well as commissioned sculptures, textiles, and pottery. Video interactives and sound stations provide selections from contemporary interviews, literature, proverbs, prayers, folk tales, songs, and oral epics.

Sections include:

  • African Voices Today: Global Problems, Local Solutions shows how endangered sea turtles are the focus of work in the Lamu Archipelago, whose beaches include some of Kenya’s most important nesting sites. The community has developed projects that protect the turtles and their habitat, while creating economic rewards and sustainable livelihoods for local people.
  • Wealth in Africa demonstrates how exchanges of objects build relationships between people; objects include an iron blade, a king's carved staff, a bridal veil, and a modern designer coffin (airplane).
  • Market Crossroads re-creates the hustle and bustle of the downtown market in Accra, Ghana, and features a yam vendor, a kola-nut vendor, a cloth vendor, and a vendor of house wares.
  • Working in Africa explores different types of work and how work is valued through ceremony and art.
  • Living in Africa features an aqal (a portable Somali home) and a carved wood door from Zanzibar.
  • Kongo Crossroads displays objects of reverence and remembrance used to honor ancestors, including Kongo power figures, Christian crosses, and grave memorials.
  • Global Africa addresses the forced versus voluntary migrations of African peoples and includes the diaspora in America and Freedom Theater.
  • History Pathway features displays of historical moments to create a walk through the millennia, including the pharaohs of ancient Nubia and the election of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa in 1994.
  • Mud Masons of Mali Gallery focuses on how tradesmen in the ancient city of Djenné build and re-build the community’s beautiful and distinctive buildings and historic mosque from baked-earth bricks and plaster.