2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday October 13, 2021

Updated on Wednesday October 13, 2021

Sharing Black history at the Horniman Museum and Gardens

This October, as part of Black History Month, Europeana is sharing stories, projects and collections to highlight Black history in Europe and beyond. Today, the UK-based Horniman Museum and Gardens describes the work they are doing to celebrate and share the Black cultural heritage in their collections. 

A display case from the Nigeria60 exhibition
Title: Nigeria60
Date: 2021
Institution: Horniman Museum and Gardens
Country: United Kingdom

The global COVID-19 pandemic stopped many of the activities which the Horniman Museum and Gardens had planned for 2020, when, like many cultural organisations, we had to close to visitors. But behind these closed doors our work continued, based on the priorities of our Reset Agenda, which seeks to address long-standing issues of racism and discrimination within our history and collections and attract a more inclusive audience and workforce that better reflect the diversity of the London population. 

More than a year later, we have seen Black History foregrounded in our permanent gallery, our temporary exhibition space, our performance venues and our online spaces. Explore details of our 2021 programme - which spans a multitude of stories, including pre-colonial and colonial African history, and more recent Black British history - below. 

Displays and exhibitions - Nigeria60, a collaborative perspective 

Our Nigeria60 display should have opened during Black History Month last year, to mark the 60th anniversary of Nigerian Independence on 1 October 2020. The display sits at the heart of our World Gallery, and finally opened in May 2021, when the museum reopened to the public. Created in collaboration with designer and artist Alafuro Sikoki-Coleman, the display features the Horniman’s collection from 1960s Nigeria, and objects collected by Sikoki-Coleman from the same period. 

It is part of a wider conversation at the Horniman focusing on the way memories of Nigerian independence are imprinted in the present through objects, images, and words. This conversation continued throughout the pandemic in the form of Instagram discussions, supported by Art Fund, around photographs of Nigerians in Nigeria and the UK in the 1960s, led by Oluseyi Awolesi, in conversation with historians Amanda Kirby Okoye and Emeka Keazor, poet Yomi Sode, and ASIRI Magazine; a series of online conversations between Dr Yewande Okuleye and influential Nigerians who work with Nigerian culture and heritage, focusing on poetry, music, art, theatre and food; and conversations about the future of the Nigerian collections at the Horniman, linking with the Rethinking Relationships project.

Senior Curator of Anthropology Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp, says: ‘Nigerian independence could never be represented by the museum alone. This was an opportunity to collaborate with and learn from a range of transnational Nigerian artists, researchers and creatives to develop an exciting programme of conversations about independence 60 years on, in the gallery and online.’

Podcasts to engage audiences with Black History

In addition to this work, The Community Action Research: African and Caribbean Collections (CAR) project supported members of diaspora communities to investigate the Horniman collections. Project lead JC Niala says: ‘Originally conceived as an in-person project, CAR was adapted due to lockdown and ran as a virtual project instead. But in fact this proved to be an advantage. It allowed us to reach people who might otherwise not have been able to be involved – so it’s fitting to share the outcomes now, in a podcast which can be listened to from anywhere in the world’.

Afro Historyscapes
Title: Afro Historyscapes
Date: 2021
Institution: Horniman Museums and Gardens'
Country: United Kingdom
Afro Historyscapes

The podcast is the 10-episode series, Afro Historyscapes. Each episode gives a fresh perspective on African histories through objects at the Horniman – including masks and musical instruments, cigarette cards and coffee pots, and many more. The overarching theme of the series is movement, with episodes focusing on trade, religion and technology. Listeners (we’ve reached people in 31 countries, and on every continent bar Antarctica) hear about a host of subjects from Mpingo wood to milk technologies, and people such as King Solomon and Stormzy.

In creating Afro Historyscapes, JC Niala gratefully acknowledges the support provided by the Joint BME Events and Activities scheme administered by the Social History Society in partnership with Economic History Society, History UK, History of Education Society (UK), History Workshop Journal, Royal Historical Society, Society for the Study of Labour History and Women's History Network.​

The 696 season - live music and the role of public spaces in sharing culture

Finally, the 696 season has brought us almost full circle to a taste of pre-COVID life, with a return to live music – albeit with restricted numbers and safety measures in place. 

The festival took its name from the Metropolitan Police Risk Assessment Form 696, which made it harder for London music venues to put on Black music events. For the Horniman, the 696 season of sell-out live performances, residencies, installations and events was about platforming this music. As Music Curator Adem Holness says, ‘so often, it can feel like our music, creativity, and culture aren't welcome in spaces funded by public money. I hope people see the festival and know that they are more than welcome at the Horniman’.

696 Dance Can't Nice poster
Title: 696
Date: 2021
Institution: Horniman Museums and Gardens'
Country: United Kingdom
696 Dance Can't Nice poster

Although the live music season has ended, the accompanying exhibition is ongoing. Dance Can’t Nice, by artist Naeem Dxvis, explores the relationship between Black British music and physical space, and includes a video installation produced by D/deaf rapper SignKid, looking at Black British music slang through British Sign Language.

Explore more

Visitors to the Horniman Museum and Gardens can enjoy Nigeria60 throughout Black History Month and beyond, and Dance Can’t Nice until 24 October. This will be followed by a new exhibition – Hair: Untold Stories, opening 4 December – which will also include Black people’s voices and experience, from wigs and weaves and the international hair trade to barbershops on the Horniman’s doorstep. 

There are also ways to engage with our work online. Watch a film about the 696 Festival at the Horniman, explore responses to the conversations we’ve been having about Nigerian independence and listen to the 10 episodes of Afro Historyscapes on the Horniman's website

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