The National Museum of African Art, established as a private museum in 1964, officially became a part of the Smithsonian in August 1979. It opened in its present home on the National Mall in 1987 and is a leading collecting, research and reference center for the visual arts of a global Africa. Through compelling, audience-centered exhibitions, scholarly publications and dynamic learning experiences, the museum fosters public understanding and appreciation of the diverse cultures and artistic achievements of Africa and Africans from ancient to contemporary times.
The museum’s collections include outstanding examples of artworks that are diverse in terms of medium and geography and date from the 11th century to contemporary commissions. Noteworthy among its holdings of historic arts are the 2005 gift of the important Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection from Walt Disney World Co., a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, and a documented collection of 1,500 African textiles, primarily from West Africa, formerly owned by Alastair and Venice Lamb of Great Britain, which was jointly acquired by the National Museum of African Art and the National Museum of Natural History. The museum’s holdings in modern and contemporary art form the largest publicly held collection in the United States and include ceramics, collage, fiber and fashion arts, painting, photography, prints, sculpture and mixed media, and time-based media by artists from Morocco to South Africa. The museum is also home to the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives which cares for approximately 500,000 items, including rare collections of glass plate negatives, lantern slides, stereographs, postcards, maps and engravings. Founded in 1971, the Warren M. Warrens Library, is the major resource center in the United States for the research and study of the visual arts of Africa. Its collection of more than 50,000 volumes covers all aspects of African visual arts, including sculpture, painting, printmaking, pottery, textiles, crafts, popular culture, photography, architecture, rock art, and archaeology. The African Art Library has significant supporting collections of African ethnography, musicology, performing arts, theater, cinema, oral traditions, religion, creative writing, and arts in the African Diaspora as well as general information on the history of African countries. The African Art Library has 4,900 files on contemporary African art and artists and a growing collection of African artists’ books. Portions of the museum’s collections and information on exhibitions and programs are available online through the museum’s web site (africa.si.edu).
Programs and Research Facilities
The museum has a changing loan exhibition program as well as exhibitions featuring the permanent collection. Exhibitions may focus on an artist, culture, era, medium, region, theme or issue, or a combination of these. Exhibitions may take shape in the museum, on-line or as a pop-up outside Washington, DC and frequently integrate new technologies.
The Museum’s conservation department focuses on developing and applying appropriate preservation treatment for works of art in the permanent collection, as well as preventive measures to arrest the deterioration of objects on exhibition, in storage, and on loan. The department maintains a 1,300 square foot laboratory and occasionally utilizes additional analytical expertise available throughout the Smithsonian for condition assessments and the technical study of African art objects. The conservation department is currently leading a Mellon-funded African Museology initiative to rethink and theorize conservation and registration practices from African perspectives.
The Museum’s registration department is currently researching naming and tagging protocols by which to search, understand and organize collections.
The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives' (SLA) Warren M. Robbins Library is a leading library internationally for research and study on African visual arts. Within the field of African art and culture, the library offers depth and uniqueness of collections. The library embraces traditional, modern, and contemporary African arts with strong supporting collections of history, ethnography, archaeology, religion, and oral tradition. Our main collection has approximately 62,000 publications. Our Special Collections are artists’ books, videos, maps, posters, artist files, and subject files, including ephemera. Researchers can access the specialized indexing of the literature on African art, history, and culture --journal articles, chapters in books, sections of exhibition catalogs, approximately 90,000 -- through the SLA online catalog and through WorldCat. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives is a research and reference center devoted to the collection, preservation and dissemination of visual materials that encourage and support the study of the arts, cultures and history of Africa. The Archives staff works with communities of descent, art historians, anthropologists, photographers, filmmakers and other specialists in acquiring and preserving these visual resources. Archives staff also carries out photographic research and responds to requests from educational institutions, museums, scholars, publishers and the public. The SIRIS online catalog (siris.si.edu) provides access to selected holdings in the Archives collections.
The Museum’s visitors are both national and international. Each is able to consult with museum staff, examine the collections, and use the library facilities and photographic archives. Members of the Museum’s research staff are available for lectures at educational institutions and for consultation with scholars, university faculty, museum professionals, and graduate and postgraduate students.
The Museum has an active public education program for schools and adults conducted through performing arts, workshops, lectures, films, tours, and outreach activities.
Dumouchelle, Kevin D., Curator. B.S.F.S. (2002) Georgetown University; M. St. (Hons) (2005) University of Oxford; M.A. (2009), M.Phil (2011), PhD (2017) Columbia University. Research specialties: African art history; ‘traditions of modernity’ in 19th/20th century African arts and visual culture; arts of Western and Central Africa; African architecture; history of collecting; contemporary art and artists; African avant-gardes. Contact: DumouchelleK@si.edu
Milbourne, Karen E., Senior Curator. B.A. (1993) Bryn Mawr College; MA (1996), PhD (2003) University of Iowa. Research specialties: Arts of global Africa, contemporary art and artists; art and the environment; intersections between art, modernity and constructions of nationalism; performance, temporality and new media issues; gender and institutional representation; art, technology and the industrial landscape; museum practice and exhibition theory. Contact: MilbourneK@si.edu
Staples, Amy J., Chief Archivist. B.A. (1980) University of New Mexico; M.A. (1989) Temple University; Ph.D. (2002) University of California, Santa Cruz. Research specialties: Expeditionary/travel film; cinematic and photographic history; visual culture. Contact: StaplesAm@si.edu
Moffett Dana, Senior Conservator. B.A. (1980) University of Kansas; B.Sc. (Hons) (1988) University College, Institute of Archaeology, University of London; M.A. (1989) University of Denver. Research specialties: conservation of historic and contemporary works by African artists. Contact: MoffettD@si.edu
Jehle, Ashley, Conservator. B.A. (2007) Florida State University; M.A. (2013) State University of New York, Buffalo State College. Research specialties: conservation of cultural and art objects from global Africa. Contact: JehleA@si.edu
Affiliated Research Staff
Kreamer, Christine Mullen, Deputy Director and Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs. A.A. (1972) Dutchess Community College, Poughkeepsie, NY; B.A. (1975) State University of New York, New Paltz; M.A.(1978), Ph.D.(1986) Indiana University. Research specialties: African art history; museum anthropology; museum studies, art and ritual; gender; African systems of knowledge. Contact: KreamerC@si.edu
Mellor, Stephen P., Associate Director. B.A. (1976) George Washington University, M.S. (1981) University of Delaware. Research specialties: Conservation of ethnographic works of art. SMellor@si.edu
Munro, Jeremy T., Digital Project Manager/Database Administrator. B.A. (2013) St. Anselm College. Research specialties: collection databases, digital art (NFTs), data hierarchies and naming, gender and databases, data and ethics, AI/Machine learning and ethics, museums and social media, linked open data, museums and video games. Contact: email@example.com