Website Review

National Museum of African Art

The National Museum of African Art website is a colorful destination that showcases a dynamic mixture of historical, traditional, and contemporary African art forms.

The museum and its website cover the entire continent of Africa, so the focus is not on children or youth. There are some valuable resources, but they finding them can be tricky.

Explore the Collection features three sample sub-collections showing the diversity, uses, and symbols of African art. An advanced search allows for sorting by type of object, country, ethnic group, and artist, but there is no keyword search for narrowing to "child" or "childhood." The search engine would be best for browsing by users with prior knowledge of the collection, or if a user wanted to search a particular region or type of artifact.

To locate material on children, explore categories such as "toys and entertainment" (18, including the image of the Zimbabwean toy turtle made from a gourd and woven fiber shown here); "doll" (12) ; "mother and child" (25); and "masks" (120). These bring up objects related to initiation and puberty rituals. "Costume and textile" (142) offers clothing types such as aprons and chest cloths associated with the passage to womanhood.

Unfortunately, many of the images are not very large, even expanded versions (when available). For smaller objects such as dolls, the images are quite detailed. For larger objects, such as clothing and weavings, the images do not allow the user to focus on the elements identified in the written descriptions. In addition, some of the texts are generic, repeating paragraphs for similar objects, such as dolls, game boards, ornaments, and clothing types.

Information and objects related to childhood, though difficult to find, are sprinkled throughout the site. For example, in the podcast and exhibit on the Tuareg, we learn that the highly refined traditions of leatherwork and silversmithing are being passed on to the next generation and are well received in the global marketplace. Other items include masks, aprons, dolls, costumes, and symbolic items that refer to the practice of initiation rites and clothing or ornaments associated with the transition from childhood to adulthood in various parts of Africa.

Radio Africa features an audio story for children, "The Leopard's Drum," and performance of a squirrel story by an Ethiopian musician. The exhibit TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity draws connections between traditional and modern clothing among African youth and how it has become part of the global youth style. Activities for children invite them to participate in discussion, try on virtual clothes, and view images of children in various forms of dress.

Museum activities for children offer records of children's art activities, especially workshops held for public and local schools. There are photo streams of children making masks, learning about textiles, colors, and symbols in African art, or interacting with the exhibits. Playtime has dynamic activities for learning how to make kente cloth, designing beaded decorations and motifs, and a virtual paper doll set on costume.

Another section worthy of note is the Warren M. Robbins Library of African Art, billed as the leading library on the subject in the United States. African Art on the Web leads to additional information on children and youth in museums and websites around the world.

How to Cite This Source

"National Museum of African Art ," in Children and Youth in History, Item #446, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/items/show/446 (accessed April 21, 2014).

The National Museum of African Art website is a colorful destination that showcases a dynamic mixture of historical, traditional, and contemporary African art forms.