Accepted Paper:

Decolonising the National Museums of Kenya  


Kristina Dziedzic Wright (Seoul National University / University of Leicester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses permanent exhibits about Kenya's history at the Nairobi National Museum. Analysis focuses on the legacy of colonialism in the National Museums of Kenya and curatorial strategies to decolonise the collection, exhibition and interpretation of art and cultural heritage in Nairobi.

Paper long abstract:

The National Museums of Kenya (NMK) was established during British colonial rule in 1910 by a group of enthusiastic naturalists under the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society. As the central repository for objects of cultural, artistic, and scientific interest to the country, the NMK is responsible for preserving, studying, and promoting national heritage, leading conservation efforts, and developing cultural tourism. NMK's flagship institution, the Nairobi National Museum (NNM), underwent extensive modernisation and expansion from 2005 - 2008 with funding from the European Union. This paper will trace the history of NNM and current curatorial strategies to decolonise the collection, exhibition and interpretation of art and cultural heritage. Analysis will focus on two permanent exhibitions at NNM: Historia ya Kenya (History of Kenya) that was opened to the public following the EU-funded renovations and plans presently underway to develop a permanent exhibition about the history of art in Kenya. The permanent art exhibition was initially conceived in the context of the 2005-2008 renovations, but limited funds have heretofore precluded its realisation. The stated goal of the permanent art gallery is to trace the development of Kenya art from prehistorical rock art through modernism. Because Kenya entered modernity through colonialism, the history of modern art in East Africa is arguably intertwined with the history of Empire. This paper will consider how an object-centred approach to these entangled narratives is enabling Kenyan curators to communicate their own histories and develop an indigenous cultural identity.

Panel P105
Museums and Anthropology: Colonial and post-colonial collections seen through museums, art and history