The British Museum and a bit of British Black History

3 Apr

Today’s group activity was the British Museum. This is really an all day family activity. There is so much to see. Because we only had about 3 hours at the museum this morning, I took advantage of the fact that I had already been here and breezed through certain sections in order to take more time in others and did a great deal of people watching along the way.  
The collections are grouped by region primarily and then era. Although I went to every section, except for Clocks and Watches, I will focus only on three, Egyptian Hall, The Enlightenment and the Africa Gallery. I took advantage that our London Pass offers a free audio tour at the British Museum and listened as I walked.

Bust of Pharaoh Ramses at the British Museum

The Egyptian Hall is one of the most populated in the Museum save the mummy collection on the 2nd floor. In 2010, I posted about the pillaging that took place worldwide in order for these collections to be here (no need to repeat myself), but I what caught my attention the most were the debates among people in various languages about whether or not Egypt was in Africa. Let me help y’all out: EGYPT IS AN AFRICAN COUNTRY LOCATED IN THE NORTH EAST OF THE CONTINENT. Point. Blank. Period. Yes. They do speak Arabic there, but it’s not a Middle Eastern country. Yes. They do practice Islam there, but they also practice Islam in Senegal. If that’s Africa, so is Egypt. I admit, I may have been more sensitive to these conversations because of my Day 1 conversation, but I really do not understand the fascination with removing Egypt from the continent.  

Wait. Yes I do. It’s for the same reason, that people “cannot be certain” what knowledge came from Egypt and what knowledge originated in Greece. Let me help you again: NEITHER. IT WAS NUBIA AND FILTERED NORTH. This isn’t just my pro-Black sensibilities. There is support for this claim. But, I encourage you to go find it. It is fairly easy to locate.  

The Enlightenment Room at the British Museum

The Enlightenment Room. I’ll be brief here. The entire book collection of King George III as well as “gifts and collectibles” from various lords and dukes in the country who upon their death, donated their “possessions” to the Museum. Many of these things were gifted or “acquired” in expeditions. The story between the lines is pretty clear there. Who exactly gifts the preserved head of an African man to a duke in the United Kingdom? I thought a bottle of wine or flowers was customary (I don’t think I want to up my game though). The funniest thing I saw in this section was a sign that read “Collecting the World.” Am I alone in seeing the humor in this? How do you collect what does not belong to you? Did you ask if it was okay to collect them? I have so many questions, all of which rhetorical, of course. 

The Africa collection is the last section I’ll share. I’m finishing up some research around the African Religious Aesthetic so I found a few pieces that I have helped me finish up that piece for submission. One of the most moving pieces is a contemporary piece shown below:

The picture does not do these pieces justice. It was phenomenal in person! It is inspired by the syncretism of the African masquerade and Carnaval celebrations in the Caribbean. I so wanted the gift shop to have this in print (sadness and sorrow, they did not). So today, still very much focusing on the Black in London.

Ignatius Sancho, portrait by Thomas Gainsborough

I want to end with a tidbit of information about Ignatius Sancho. He was the African whose picture was in the Museum of London. The interwebs have provided me with these facts:

Ignatius Sancho is the first African to have work published in England. He cam to England at the age of 2 after his mother died in New Granada. He grew as a slave in Greenwich, London. The Duke of Montagu frequently sent Sancho books in order to encourage a love of knowledge. He wrote numerous letters, plays and music. Although the conditions behind his freedom are unclear, once Sancho was free, he owned a grocery store in Westminster and lived in the neighborhood with his wife and seven children. He is documented as the first Black person of African origin to have voted in Britain. You can get Sancho’s published letters here. I figured I’d give you a bit of a taste of the Black British history (since I’m still looking for the book).

In keeping with the old stomping grounds of Ignatius Sancho, tomorrow we hit the Westminster area.  More family friendly stuff to come tomorrow……

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