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Celebrate the richness and diversity of Africa, from art and language to spiritual practices and family and gender relations. Learn from its complex organization of social, economic, and political systems.

Above: Kota Guardian Figure, Congo. 29-12-236

Trace the journey from maker to museum to consider why, where, and how objects were made. Learn how these objects were used in daily life, on special occasions, or in religious ceremonies, and why they were meaningful to the cultures that produced them.

As with most Western museums, the foundational objects of this collection were created in, or taken out of, Africa during periods of enslavement and colonialism. Most of the Penn Museum’s Africa collections were acquired by curators, ethnologists, archaeologists, antiquarians, or travelers in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. The objects on display in the Africa Galleries were selected to deepen the conversation about African material culture, its representation in Western museums, and its connection to the African Diaspora.

Whats On View

Gold beaded bracelet. Ashanti gold weight in the shape of a bird pecking back, on round base. Coptic Christian wood icon. Various images include crucifiction, Madonna/Mother Mary and child, St. George and dragon, clerics, soilders, etc. Double comb with ornament of concentric circles and transverse lines.

Goldsmiths in Ghana have made beads in the Asante tradition of lost wax casting for generations. These beads were from the artist's extra stock. His son sold them to the Museum nearly 40 years after they were created. 70-18-1A - R

These gold weights reflect the customs of the Asante people. Older weights were based on geometric patterns. Later weights include adinkra synbols—used to decorate textiles and pottery—and everyday objects. AF2458

Brightly-colored Ethiopian paintings decorate Christian Orthodox churches, religious texts, and protective amulets. These paintings on the right may illustrate scenes from the Garima Gospels—the bible used in the Ethiopian Church for over 1,500 years. 2015-30-7.1

A double-sided shanua (comb) serves two purposes in one. The long teeth part hair, and the short teeth smooth it out while it is braided. AF3929

View all objects on display in this gallery.

Meet the Curator

Tukufu Zuberi, Ph.D., shares the process of the creation of the Africa Galleries in conversation with African museum directors, curators, and contemporary artist in the Diaspora and Africa. Current debates about reparations and restitution have led to ongoing conversations about the return of artifacts to Africa. The galleries are designed to deepen the conversation about African material culture and its representation in Western Museums. “So anything done to uplift the culture, the history of the people here is done for the benefit of the world,” says Chief D.U. Edebiri, the Esogban of Benin Kingdom.

A global guide giving a tour in the Africa Galleries.


Go with a Guide

No advance registration is required and many tours are included with Museum admission. Tours begin in the Main Entrance.

Artists with their art in the Africa Galleries.

Contemporary artists contribute thought-provoking installations

Also on display are contemporary art-works commissioned as direct responses to the historical objects in the collection. The installations include Dress, created by Breanna Moore and Emerson Ruffin, Wall of Memory for an Ancestral Palace by Jorge Dos Anjos, and Presence of a Fundamental Absence by Muhsana Ali and Amadou Kane Sy. Photo by Eric Sucar.

Dig Deeper

Home to more than one million artifacts, the Penn Museum explores human history across 10,000 years. Only a small fraction are on display in the galleries. Explore the rest of the collection online.

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