Think Africa Think V&A: Understanding Our Collections

Discover a range of Global African artefacts that have been acquired by the V&A across its 170-year existence. Join us for this immersive study day and evening of talks, tours, discussions, Q&A, displays, and up-close viewing of our collections.

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+44 (0)20 7942 2000
Think Africa Think V&A: Understanding Our Collections photo

We examine the V&A and its history and relationship with Africa, to understand the impact on the museum’s collecting strategies and practices today, including shifts in acknowledging the past and present achievements of Africans and their artistic creativity, and the challenges faced in securing a permanent gallery for Global African material, and making these acquisitions more accessible.

Founded at the height of empire after the 1851 Great Exhibition, the V&A like many museums at the time viewed Sub-Saharan African artefacts as ethnography and not as art. Hence the V&A’s larger collections of British, European, Asian, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern materials. Over a prolonged period, the Museum’s position that it never collected Africa was stated as ‘fact’ by both staff and visitor alike. However, after extensive research between 2005 - 2008, the Museum discovered it had over four thousand objects associated with Africa and the Diaspora. Curatorial teams now found themselves caring for objects they had little knowledge about, and that interpreting colonial collections for a post-colonial audience was a challenge.

Amongst others, we hear from our museum experts, curators, learning producers, and our visitor experience and volunteer teams as they share and discuss uncomfortable histories, extraordinary object stories, contemporary acquisitions, and how they bring hidden histories to life through displays, exhibitions, public events, learning resources, and tours.

We shall share how the work of the V&A Research Institute, international programmes, membership, the National Art Library, marketing, and merchandising teams promote Global Africa in their projects, build relevant brand awareness and messaging, work towards international renewable partnerships, and multisite developments, and encourages new and existing audiences to engage with this content both in person and online, including Explore the Collections, the V&A’s public digital collections platform.

A detailed schedule will be available shortly.

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Header image: Ensemble, kente coat, cotton top and trousers, 'Asseulenn' collection, Look 31, designed by Imane Ayissi, Paris, France, Spring/Summer 2017 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London