Reimagining Curatorial Practice in 21st-Century Africa: Community Museums

Raymond Silverman, University of Michigan

Monday, October 18, 2010
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall (10th Floor)
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Museums in Africa are a poignant legacy of colonial pasts. Many have little relevance to the communities in which they are situated, and at best, serve as tourist attractions for expatriate visitors. Authority and responsibility for constructing narratives presented in these museums rest with professional curators whose knowledge and insight are grounded in European museological traditions. Following such models, the voices encountered in most exhibitions are those of “expert” curators. There are exceptions, but not many.

Community museums are an arena in which new modes of curatorial practice are emerging. Well-known examples include the District Six Museum in Cape Town, the Culture Banks of Mali, and the Community Museums of Kenya. In these and other community-centered museums, “curatorial” roles have been reshaped. Knowledge-based expertise of curators remains critical, but processes of (re)presenting knowledge and constructing new knowledge are shared with local constituencies for whom curators serve as catalysts for collaboration. Such a paradigm shift has significant social and political implications leading to a redefining—a reimagining, even—of what museums are in and for Africa.

Ray Silverman joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 2002 to launch a new graduate program in museum studies. He is jointly appointed in the Department of the History of Art and the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, and is Director of the Museum Studies Program based at the U-M Museum of Art. Before moving to Ann Arbor, Dr. Silverman was on the faculty at Michigan State University, and before that UC Santa Cruz. He is a historian and curator of the visual cultures of Africa, and most of his work has been undertaken in Ghana and Ethiopia. He has explored a range of subjects dealing with historical and social dimensions of metallurgy and the visual culture of religion, specifically of Islam and indigenous religions in Ghana, and the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia.

Since 2005, Dr. Silverman has been involved in Nkwantananso: The Cultural Center of Techiman, as a project that offers opportunities for collaboration among faculty and students from several universities in Ghana and the United States and members of a community in central Ghana building a cultural center. The work has involved application of current social theory concerning culture, heritage and civil society.


Exhibiting Africa: Critical Curatorial Practice in the 21st Century Series

The lecture series addresses dynamic alternative approaches to Africa’s representation in museum and exhibition contexts of the 21st century. Within African art studies, exhibitions have been one of the primary vehicles of representation, with some of the most important research in the field taking shape through museum exhibitions and associated scholarly publications. Yet the display of cultures has been fraught with the politics of representation. This forward-looking series of lectures will present and envision critical curatorial interventions that embrace multiple facets of traditional, modern, contemporary, urban, and diasporic African experience. We shall seek to complicate conventional wisdoms about what it means to organize exhibitions, and to engage artists and communities in the actions of curatorial practice.

Upcoming Lectures

Nov. 1 -- Gemma Rodrigues, Fowler Museum at UCLA
Simultaneous Translation: In and out of Africa/ In and out of Time

Nov. 15 -- Sylvester Ogbechie, UC Santa Barbara
Curating Africa as a Site of Globalization 

These presentations are part of the UCLA African Studies Center Monday Africa Seminar Series (MASS), funded by a grant from the UCLA International Institute. Additional funding provided by the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

Pay-by-space and all-day ($10) parking available in lot 3.

Cost : Free and open to the public

African Studies Center310-825-3686

Sponsor(s): African Studies Center