The talk/tour considered objects and their presentations in galleries 65, 64 and 61 at the British Museum. Starting with Ancient Sudan and the region of Nubia, Dr Sally-Ann Ashton spoke about how museums label objects as ‘African’ and made comparison with Ancient Egypt and the lack of reference to other African cultures on labels and on-line entries in the majority of museums. She spoke about the history of Egyptology and how race and racialised identities had been used politically, and considered the impact of this foundation on how we present Ancient Egypt today. In this gallery we looked at pottery, headrests, and evidence relating to African societies. It was argued that we should adopt a more critical approach to our interpretation of material from Ancient Sudan and Egypt.
The presentation looked at the timeline of Ancient Egypt, and considered when, and how many, non-indigenous cultures had impacted upon the country and its population over a period of 5000 years. In the Early Egypt gallery links were made between hair combs, animal depictions and the ideology of kingship with other African cultures. Sally-Ann stressed the importance of community engagement and establishing a dialogue with museums, and encouraged people to work with institutions in order to explore ways in which objects were displayed and presented.
The issue of depictions of ancient peoples of North East Africa was discussed and the difference between the symbolic use of skin colour as opposed to representations of daily life on wall paintings and reliefs was also introduced whilst in the Sudanese and Nubian gallery. This theme continued throughout the talk, culminating in the Neb Amun gallery, where people were invited to look at both pictorial evidence and related material culture in order to consider links between Egypt and the rest of Africa.
One of the 80 visitors who attended told Sally-Ann: ‘I never thought I would hear this kind of talk at the British Museum’.
Arthur Torrington and Dr Kimani Nehusi will be discussing with the Museum the way forward which could include a day conference or symposium at the Museum later this year on a similar theme.