Afrika Museum - RCMC

Katie M. Sandels

MA Thesis | An Ethnographic Exploration of Cultural Representations of 'Africa' in the Buitenmuseum, Afrika Museum

Understanding the Interactions between Material Culture and Visitors in an Open-Air Exhibition and the Opportunities for redevelopment


This thesis identifies the ‘African’ cultural representations through material culture in the open-air exhibition of the Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal. It identifies the material agency of the collection and architecture and how this is consumed by the audience. In turn, it identifies how these representations affect the audience’s perceptions of African cultures and proposes possibilities for the future renovation of the exhibition, with the focus on how to represent the diversity of contemporary African social reality. The data was gathered and analysed using an ethnographic method through visitor studies, observations, interviews and social media analysis. By triangulating these findings, it is possible to see the effect of the current representations and provide solutions for the future renovation. I argue that the wonder of the exhibition representations encourages a curious romanticised gaze at ‘Africa’ that may emphasise static cultural perceptions in the audience. Confronting this perception through an inclusive and contemporary narrative is required.

“…I’ve always had a bit of a problem with it, but the moment when it started to really bother me was when I went to ‘PhantasiaLand’ in Germany, it’s a theme park with rollercoasters, each rollercoaster is a different country. It’s the most stereotypical place you will ever find. But the Asian and the German quarter, it’s done with a bit more respect than the African side. It’s your classic Hollywood stereotypes with voodoo and masks hanging everywhere…It’s painful and especially because there are people role playing, they get a bunch of Africans playing monotonous rhythm and dancing and they shout at people [raises hands and stick tongue out] “come dance with us arghhh”. When I saw that I realised it’s only an inch away from what we are doing at our museum…We were so close to reaching that point and time has caught up with us…We’re getting close to Phantasia Land because it started off as a Buitenmuseum for the congregation to say “hey look how poor they are give us some money and we’ll help them”, then we changed the theme to an architecture storyline but we didn’t really build anything new or change the ways we display that better, we just changed the text panels. I think that we are missing a personal touch, or a touch that really connects to the visitors when you only talk about architecture, because no one goes to the Afrika Museum to see architecture. That’s what I believe anyway. There could be a storyline in there but it doesn’t really fit within our contemporary mission…” Interview with staff member, 13/03/2017

By Katie M. Sandels
MA Thesis Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology
University of Leiden
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Peter Pels
June 2017