Thursday, 17 May 2012

African Art in Derby

Like a number of regional museums and art galleries, those run by Derby City Council hold a sizeable collection of African art and artefacts that, sadly, rarely see the light of day.

These collections were often donated during the early 20th century by the families of nineteenth century collectors who had shuffled off this mortal coil. Often the collections came with little or no supporting information, and the quality varies according to the intentions of the individual collector - some collected out of a genuine appreciation or intellectual curiosity, others saw themselves as collecting oddities and novelties. 

The Figures of Africa exhibition at Derby`s Pickford`s House museum (Friar Gate, Derby - a short walk from the city centre, near to Friar Gate Arches) gives us a welcome opportunity to see a selection from that collection. 

I had seen most of the items in the current exhibition when they were displayed at the same venue on an earlier occasion, but I was happy to make their acquaintance once again. The items on show included Nomoli stone figures carved by the Sapi people of Sierra Leone, Mende masks (also from Sierra Leone) originally used by the Sande women`s association and some Akan brass weights from Ghana (stylistically similar to Ashanti gold weights). I was also very taken with a Nigerian Ekpo mask with antelope-style horns and a representation of a small bird between them.

My only criticism would be that Figures of Africa is such a small exhibition. I personally would be happy to visit Pickford`s House any day of the week, but for anyone specifically wanting to pursue an interest in African art, the small selection on display hardly merits a journey of any distance. 

All was not lost, however, and your intrepid art lover took himself to nearby Derby Museum and Art Gallery where the Visual Poetry of 1001 Objects includes a number of African items, in particular a wooden Benin figure, a wooden Kenyan Policeman figure and an Ivory Coast bird mask.   

Additionally, there is also a small Ancient Egyptian section to the museum.

Here again though only a small proportion of the objects on display are of African origin.

For me, that doesn`t matter much. I had other reasons to be in  Derby and was basically combining business with pleasure. Additionally, there were other items of interest to me at both museums.

I can`t help wondering whether an opportunity is being missed here. Surely it wouldn`t be beyond the wit of man to exhibit a larger proportion of the 500 or so African items held at Derby ? I recall some years ago when the work of Sokari Douglas Camp was being exhibited at Nottingham Castle she also curated a small display from the Castle`s rarely-seen stock of African items that was well worth a look. I would have though something similar could be done in Derby.

Let`s hope something is done soon, as on this showing the selection held at Derby could be pretty remarkable.

Figures of Africa - at Pickford`s House until 30 Sept 2012

`1001 Objects` - at Derby City Museum and Art Gallery until January 2014

Further info at

1 comment:

  1. I pondered to myself recently what were the most important things in my life. The answer seems to be clear that
    art was up there in importance. Why? Frankly, I don't really know. May be someone here can enlighten me?

    As was my wont when I have some free time, I browsed the marvelous site,, where they keep thousands of digital images for customers to select to
    have printed into handsome canvas prints for their homes.
    This image jumped out to jolt my reveries: Still life with bread, by the Cubist Georges Braque. Is art like this
    picture, as essential as bread and water, or should I say bread and wine?