Class Develops African Art Exhibit on Campus

African art, museums, and exhibition practices class discussing display methods for their exhibit.
Laurel Lamb

African art, museums, and exhibition practices class discussing display methods for their exhibit.

A new exhibit is now on display on the fifth floor of Old Main. Africa in Action: Selections from the University of Arkansas Museum was conceptualized and implemented by students on campus during the fall 2018 semester. They were part of assistant professor of art  Janine Sytsma's "African Art, Museums, and Exhibition Practices" class.

The students visited the U of A Museum's ethnology collection to pick materials for the exhibit. The collection consists of more than 3500 historical and contemporary objects from cultures all over the world, including from Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. 

"Over the semester, students were introduced to some of the challenges inherent in the exhibition of African art," explained Sytsma. "Working with the U of A Museum staff afforded them the unique opportunity to put into practice what they had learned. Students conceptualized the exhibition with these challenges in mind, selected objects from the collection for display, and developed the exhibition content."

One of the students, Deena Owens, also described her experience:

"I found it very rewarding to collaborate with my classmates on this exhibit. It's always difficult to navigate so many personalities and opinions when working on something important on this scale and I think we worked well as a team. Also, I work in Special Collections and was co-curating my first exhibit at the same time as this one, so I was immediately applying what I learned to the 'real world'."

The exhibit itself explores the rich cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity of the African continent, featuring objects from the highlands of Ethiopia in East Africa to the savanna that stretches across West Africa. The main narrative for the exhibit highlights one of its purposes to "[c]ounter widespread portrayals of Africa as static and unchanging … Like people everywhere in the world, Africans respond to shifting social, political, and environmental conditions." 

The Africa in Action exhibit will be on display on the fifth floor of  Old Main through November.


Laurel Lamb, curator
University of Arkansas Museum


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