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African Connections

The Collection After Ten Years

Michigan State University is the home of the largest and one of the finest African Studies Programs in the nation. Associated with this exceptional concentration of scholars is a significant collection of African artifacts maintained in Michigan State University Museum. There had never been a material culture specialist for Africa on the faculty. When I arrived at MSU in 1988, I discovered quite a variety of artifacts, most having come to the University with little if any documentation. As curator for the African collection, I have pursued a collection development policy that gives primacy to objects with solid documentation.
"African Connections" celebrates the growth of Michigan State University Museum's collection of African material culture over the last ten years. Gifts of artifacts from a number of generous donors and research-oriented (field) collecting by several scholars affiliated with MSU have greatly enhanced the size and especially the quality of our African holdings. These include the contribution of masks from Burkina Faso, West African textiles, an exceptional collection of sowei masks from Sierra Leone and Liberia, Ethiopian paintings dating from the 1930s, Tuareg metalwork from Niger, and figurative sculpture and masks from various parts of the continent. Based on our commitment to collect, conserve, and exhibit well-documented objects, our most important acquisitions have been the research collections made in Somalia, Niger, Ethiopia, and South Africa. However, the focus of "African Connections" is not the objects, but the individuals who brought them to the Museum. The exhibition is about collecting.

"African Connections" has afforded us an opportunity to display some of these exciting objects and to develop a sense of where they came from. This WWW site serves as a complement to the "real" exhibition. Here one may find a set of statements prepared by each of the major donors/collectors that provide insights into the meaning of some of the objects as well as how and why they were collected. In addition, there is a virutal catalog that presents information about each of the objects that comprise the exhibition.

    Raymond Silverman
    Curator for African Visual Culture