Women’s History Museum of Zambia and the National Museums of World Culture (NMWC) have announced a joint collaboration to create a digital platform for museum objects that allows partial open data access to museum artifact collections that are housed in the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm.
The platform will allow access to the collection of Zambian museum objects but also give the opportunity for data sharing and crowdsourcing of metadata of the objects that may have been previously absent.
The concept comes in the wake of widening global discourse on repatriation of African Museum objects and how African populations can access cultural artifacts that are housed in various museums around the world.
The Museum of Ethnography holds an impressive collection of over 650 Zambian objects and 360 photographs in addition to other materials, books and documents. These have been acquired over a period of over 125 years and were brought and donated to the museum by various benefactors that include explorers, anthropologists, missionaries and visitors to Zambia.
Co-founders of the Women’s History Museum Samba Yonga and Mulenga Kapwepwe have just returned from Sweden where the idea was hatched along with the Africa Curator Michael Barrett and the team at the Museum of Ethnography.
“There is currently heated discourse on the repatriation of African museum objects. The digital crowdsourcing platform will contribute to the global discourse on repatriation of African objects. The truth is Africa still needs to build the infrastructure to hold some of these precious objects but at the same time there is a lack of meta data regarding these objects in the international museums. The objective of our collaboration is to increase access to such museum objects by creating a platform where new knowledge can be added
by Zambians about their own heritage. To this end, the partnership hopes to create a digital artifact-sharing platform and consequently a legitimate African knowledge system built by the owners of the objects”, said cultural expert and co-founder of the Women’s History Museum, Mulenga Kapwepwe.
If successful, for the first time, the Zambian public will have the opportunity to examine first hand some of their oldest artefacts and also contribute to new knowledge to the African historical and cultural sector.
Said Michael Barrett, Africa Curator of the National Museums of World Culture, Sweden: “For us this collaboration with the Women’s History Museum provides us with an opportunity to learn more about the contemporary significance of these collections, especially what meanings and values they may hold for Zambians in the present. We are also looking forward to understanding more about the social, cultural and historical contexts of collections that were mostly acquired during the colonial period and which were often poorly understood by museums of the time. Finally, working with WHMZ allows us to develop our capabilities of engaging (digitally and otherwise) with users in southern Africa
as well as learning from our inspiring partners about compelling ways of telling stories about this cultural heritage.”
This presents an opportunity to also explore the value of this knowledge and how it can be mainstreamed into contemporary social, media and academic African discourse.
“One of the key issues with African knowledge systems is there is always a challenge with tracing the ownership or validity. This platform will provide a legitimate source for the knowledge but also provide traceability so that the next time we see an African pattern on a global runway we can recognise it and more importantly trace it back to its origin. It will also give the creative sector and other sectors in Zambia and even rest the of Africa a rich cultural knowledge bank on which to draw on for inspiration,” said content producer and co-founder of the Women’s History Museum Samba Yonga.
The team from the Museum of Ethnography in Sweden will also visit Zambia in November 2019 to meet with experts in the culture space and further discuss how the development of the platform will be organised.