I have been a huge fan of museums for as long as I can remember. From big, busy classic favorites like the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to smaller and lesser known museums like the Dapper Museum in Paris. I love seeing the creativity, history and culture that is displayed in all its forms.
If you’ve been following my blog for any time at all, you probably know already that the Dapper Museum in Paris is my all-time favorite. This is not because its collection is the largest in the world or because there are rare treasures there. They do have a beautiful collection of pieces from across the African continent, they do have a charming little bookstore and café; but what they have that impresses me most is information! For me, it is a great pleasure to see people walk through and learn more about the people and cultures that created the art on display.
Although it’s true that I studied African history, politics and language from some great professors while in university; I must be honest in saying that I have learned so much more since leaving the beautiful campus behind.
I have read stacks and stacks of books, magazines and periodicals over the years; but I must admit that there are two ways that I most love learning about Africa: museums and dialog.
Frankly, dialog is my favorite. Each person who has shared their personal story with me, each interview I’ve conducted, well, they’ve all taught me so very much about African culture and history. It is during conversations with Romuald’s beautiful mother from Cameroon, through a question and answer session with Dominic in Ghana or from one of the elders in my own family that I learn the real history and culture of my beloved continent.
But, in the absence of smiling faces and lively discussion, museums are a close runner-up.
I remember going to a museum in Paris which will remain unnamed. It is hailed as being one of the best in Europe; yet I couldn’t stomach remaining there for over 20 minutes. There was a lot of art from Africa. Yet, the vast majority of the pieces had little tags near each piece that read something like this: “Woman with basket. Wood. 19th C.” My very young daughter kept asking me, “Mom, why don’t they know that is from Ghana?” I was insulted, and deeply so.
I looked around that museum and counted dozens of families walking through the rooms one by one, interested and ready to learn. These families though, would instead get an experience that taught them very little.
I guess I’m a teacher at heart. As much teacher as I am student… lifelong student. After all, life is about learning, right? I was so saddened to think of these people planning a day out with their children and of all of the things they could have done, they wanted to come and experience Africa through our beautiful and varied art forms. Only to walk through a host of rooms which failed to do much except put art on a shelf behind glass.
Now that you know my world view where art and museums are concerned let me tell you this: If you are ever in San Francisco, go visit the deYoung Museum!! I so thoroughly enjoyed my visit last week.
As an added bonus right now, you’ll get the extra treat of seeing a portion of the Vatican Museum’s religious art on display. Most of that section contains pieces from a host of islands from the Pacific. But, there are a few African pieces in the mix. And, no matter what your views are on the Vatican; you must know one thing when it comes to their art collection: it is incredibly well labeled! I have never been anywhere and seen such consistent, detailed and thorough informational cards. The priests, monks and others who collected them clearly knew much about the pieces and the peoples who made them.
I really enjoyed making comparisons between some of the masks from Polynesian islands and various regions of Africa. And of course, seeing the African pieces was a treat.
But, even if the Vatican pieces are no longer on loan to the deYoung, you really should visit. Their collection is large, informative and beautifully displayed. When you are done, or if you need a break, they have a lovely area to sit and enjoy a meal at the café. Located in the Golden Gate Park, it is a great environment to take your kids for a stroll or sit alone and read a book that you’ve gotten at the museum gift shop.
Who knows, maybe you’ll run into me there? I definitely plan on returning!
When you get there, if you see a kind Caribbean gentleman at the front checking tickets, tell him that Mama said hello!