Imagine Africa with the Penn Museum

Penn Museum Press Release -- Imagine Africa with the Penn Museum is a twelve-month, public art, public dialogue project investigating community perspectives on the Penn Museum’s extraordinary African collection. With this feedback, the museum will plan a re-installation of the African collection, informed by academic and community perspectives.

Drawing upon its extraordinary African collection, the Penn Museum will present more than 50 objects framed around eight broad topics. Through a variety of engagement opportunities, visitors will be asked to provide feedback on the objects and content they see, and to discuss what would make an engaging exhibition-from their point of view. Throughout the year, the Museum will engage-through a gallery installation, diverse public programming, and a rich website- in discussions with the regional community, as it begins long-range plans to re-envision its African gallery for a 21st century audience.

Collaborations with local community organizations will help produce a year of Africa-inspired public events. In addition, a range of interactive programs at area schools and community centers are part of the initiative.

Penn Museum was among the first American museums to begin collecting African art and artifacts; the Museum has about 20,000 objects in its African collection in addition to 42,000 ancient artifacts in the Egyptian collection. Most African collection objects were obtained between 1891 and 1930, hail from nearly every major cultural area of the African continent, and provide an unparalleled regional resource.

"There is no question we have one of the finest collections of African material in the country," noted Richard Hodges, Williams Director of the Penn Museum. "The question is-how do we make that collection, and our presentation of it, relevant to today's visitors, and particularly to the African and African American communities we serve in the region today?"

The Gallery Presentation

Central to Imagine Africa with the Penn Museum is an engaging gallery installation in the Sharpe Hallway gallery adjacent to the current African Gallery. Here, the Museum presents a selection of objects framed around eight broad topics: Beauty, Strength, Power, Healing, Fashion, Changing, Creating and the Divine. Text, multimedia, and interactive elements offer opportunities for more in-depth exploration of these topics, while various discussion methods allow visitors to express what would make an engaging exhibition-from their point of view. All feedback will be collected as the Museum plans a future re-installation of its African collection informed by both academic and community perspectives.

"The idea is to begin a discussion with our community," noted Kate Quinn, Director of Exhibitions. "We hope to present this material in such a way that the public can respond to it honestly, and tell us what they think."

This video further explains how the gallery will be organized so as to encourage discussion and engagement from community members.


Imagine Africa with the Penn Museum kicked off on Sunday, September 18, with a gallery project Opening Celebration featuring African music, art, storytelling, dance, food and more, from 1 to 4 pm.

An African lecture series co-sponsored by Penn's African Studies Center kicked off Thursday, October 20, 6 pm with Dr. Tukufu Zuberi, Penn's Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations, who discussed the challenge of making a documentary in Africa, with "Africa and the World."

Upcoming lecturers will include Dr. Harvey Friedman, Director of the Botswana-UPenn Partnership, who will discuss Penn’s decade-long role in treating HIV/AIDS in Botswana, and Dr. Carol Muller, Professor of Music (ethnomusicology), who will talk about South African performance and ethnography.

The full schedule of fall programs is here. Program brochures are also available at the Museum.

School and community groups interested in learning more about how they can help the Museum to "Imagine Africa" can call Jean Byrne, Director of Community Engagement, at (215) 898 - 4025.

Penn Museum (the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage.