Last week we decided soak up some culture at lunchtime at the British Museum and joined the free 40 minute eyeOpener Africa gallery tour! The Africa gallery is immediately vibrant and impressive and is in fact the newest gallery at the British Museum. The items on display highlight the diverse culture of Africa through everyday objects and also through unique works of art ranging from everyday textiles from the east , through to bronze heads commissioned by Nigerian kings.
One of the first objects on the tour were the Benin Bronzes from 16th century Nigeria. They represent Benin court rituals in the 16th century and also celebrate major historical events and representations of the importance and responsibility of the King or “Oba”. They read like a book, displaying African fashion and craftsmanship. However, only men were represented – no women or children can be seen and even the musicians are represented much smaller as they were not seen to be as important.
We also saw a beautiful selection of vibrant textiles from Kenya and Mozambique. Many of these are worn textiles, and often they communicate a message – sometimes even humorous ones! The purple one depicts a scene that conveys the message: if you work hard, you will receive the fruits of your labour – even though the textile actually depicts the women working whilst the men relax and drink…!
There was also a fantastic selection of colourful masks on display which are often used by tribes during masquerade ceremonies that incorporate music, dance and celebration. Often representing different animals, masks were worn to hide your identity and take on a new spiritual character during performance.
One particularly inspiring object was the ‘Tree of Life,’ which was created by four Mozambican artists from decommissioned weapons. The TAE (Transforming Arms into Tools) project aimed to eliminate the threat of hidden weapons, so in exchange for the weapons Mozambicans were able to receive positive and useful tools such as ploughs or sewing machines. Once the weapons were decommissioned, they were cut up and made into the ‘Tree of Life’ and also the ‘Throne of Weapons.’ Inspired by Genesis, it makes the point that it is important to make decisions that help to develop our life!
The eyeOpener tour is definitely worth a visit for a brief insight into African history and art!