Cast gold badge, worn by the Asantehene's (king's) 'soul washer' as a badge of office

Cast gold badge, worn by the Asantehene's (king's) 'soul washer' as a badge of office

Catherine Flood, Curator, Word & Image, Member of Project Team

I represent the curatorial collections on the project team and advise on using and displaying museum objects within the centre. We want the museum's collections to be at the heart  of visitors' experience of the centre and a case for changing displays is planned for the entrance area. I am curating the first display in this case which looks at the African objects within the V&A's collections.

The Africa related collection at the V&A is a fascinating but very disparate array of objects that is challenging to interpret. When the V&A's collecting patterns were established in the 19th century, prevailing imperial attitudes meant that the cultural productions of sub-Saharan Africa were not actively collected as examples of art and design. Despite this, recent research has shown that a wealth of material relevant to Africa exists within the collections. Putting a range of these objects on display will be a chance to give this research a visible public profile. Audience research has also revealed a strong desire to see the material cultures of the African Diaspora better represented within the V&A; 'why isn't there a gallery dedicated to African art?' is a typical question.

In developing the display it became clear that we needed to find a way to connect and contextualise very varied objects in a way that will be intellectually sound, culturally sensitive and visually dynamic. We therefore commissioned artist/curator Maria Amidu to interpret the objects through an intervention in the case. Maria was chosen on the basis that she has led other high profile cultural projects in leading museums, including the national Maritime Museum's recent Understanding Slavery initiative.

Maria is working on a series of large-scale digital prints in response to the objects which will be displayed with them in the case. Her work explores the kind of space that African objects occupy within the broader collections, addressing the question of how they 'fit' within the Museum. Her starting point has been photography of the objects in store and the physical spaces they leave behind when out on display - demonstrating how the objects live amongst a host of related and unrelated objects.