Zachary Kingdon – Unofficial Exchanges: Investigating West Africans’ Gifts to UK Museums in the Early Colonial Period

 

 

Event Date: 25 November 2015
Clore Auditorium,
Tate Britain
Millbank,
London SW1P 4RG

Tate Britain and the School of Arts at Birkbeck University of London present:

Artist and Empire: The Long Nineteenth Century

Zachary Kingdon (Curator of the African Collections at the World Museum in Liverpool) – Unofficial Exchanges: Investigating West Africans’ Gifts to UK Museums in the Early Colonial Period

Beyond and alongside Britain’s official colonial presence in western Africa a diversity of unofficial and “paracolonial” exchanges (Newell 2002:44) took place, which helped to shape people’s experiences as well as the expressions and trajectories of colonialism in the region. One of World Museum Liverpool’s most prolific early collectors, a Chief Engineer on the steamships of Elder, Dempster & Co.’s West Africa service by the name of Arnold Ridyard, facilitated many such exchanges during a 21 year period from 1895 to 1916. His astonishing network of 222 friends and collaborators on the western coast of Africa included at least eighty West Africans, who contributed some 500 African cultural artefacts to the World Museum collection. A lesser number of items were given to the Salford and Manchester museums by some of the same donors. Like many of his West African collaborators, Ridyard was a nonconformist. He took British cultural material to his West African collaborators in return for the African artefacts they presented to museums in Northwest England, so his collecting operation constituted an informal system of exchange. My paper will illustrate the means through which this exchange was conducted alongside the “official” flows of things, people, and ideas that underpinned British colonization of West African territories. It will attempt to elucidate how such exchanges were motivated by particular cycles of cross-cultural desire, contestation and interdependence.

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