Africa Lecture Series

Defetishizing Material Culture in Museums: Public Education with Vanicléia Silva-Santos
Mar 28, 2023 at - | Max Kade Center
3401 Walnut Street (Room 329A)
Philadelphia, PA 19104 


Public educational institutions like museums must correct mistaken views about Africa and Africans. This lecture addresses the history of removing material culture from Africa and the process of naming objects through the lenses of art dealers. Through the archival documents and the materiality of some objects, I highlight the need to decolonize the narratives and vocabularies used to describe the objects in the collection. I ask about the possibility of Defetishizing Material Culture in Museums. How do we change the representation of Black people in museums? And how do we change the idea of fetishism by promoting a more critical and liberating public education?

Vanicleia Silva-Santos is a professor of African History and curator at the Pen Museum of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She is a Member of UNESCO's International Scientific Committee for preparing the Ninth Volume of the General History of Africa Collection. In addition, she co-edited the Volume on the African Diaspora (forthcoming in 2023). Her research interests include African History and its Diasporas, Material Culture, museums, and gender. She has published widely on these topics. Her latest projects resulted in several edited volumes, entitled African Ivory as Insignia of Power. Contexts of production and uses, inside and outside of Africa (2023); Intellectual Heritage, History and Culture in West Africa (2019); and Archaeology and history of material culture in Africa and the African diaspora (2018). She is currently preparing the Penn Museum Africa Galleries catalog and a book manuscript on the African collection of ivory in the Penn Museum.