Imagine … a new Africa Gallery at the Penn Museum

The Imagine Africa Exhibit at the Penn Museum opened on September 18th. Photography by Maanvi Singh.

The Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is taking a new, meta approach to exhibits – in which its outdated Africa gallery becomes the ancient artifact on display.

The museum’s Africa Gallery is long overdue for a redesign. Tucked into a small room on the second floor beyond the Mexico and Central America Gallery,  the current Africa Gallery exhibit hasn’t changed  since it was installed in 1984. According to Director of Exhibitions Kate Quinn, curators at the time were unsure about how to organize the museum’s  tens of thousands of African artifacts, so they started putting artifacts into glass cases. And now they’re gathering dust.

Now, with a  year long installation called Imagine Africa, the museum is offering the public an opportunity to get involved in updating the gallery. The exhibit, which opened on September 18, asks museum-goers how they imagine Africa – and what they would be interested in seeing in the revamped Africa gallery.

SLIDESHOW | Opening Day

The entire installation takes up the hallway outside of the old Africa gallery, invites readers to leave notes, write on white-boards and take surveys to express exactly what they want to see in a redesigned Africa exhibit. Eight different displays represent different aspects of Africa including health, fashion, and religion.

It’s a far from traditional. A jukebox blasts out an array of both traditional and contemporary African music. And visitors are encouraged to write comments on the walls – which have been converted into whiteboards.

“The main goal is that the West Philadelphia community will say, ‘Well that’s our museum,’” says Quinn.

To attract even more of an audience, the museum will also host African music concerts, dance performances, lectures co-sponsored by the Penn African studies department – even special menu items at the café inspired by African cuisine.

Find out more about the exhibit and related events at the Imagine Africa website.

– Maanvi Singh

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