Monday, 29 July 2013

Making it easier to explore the Museum's African mask collections

Work continues on selecting masks for the new displays in the Museums' Court (ground floor). We have masks from many cultures, but our African mask collections demonstrate significant historical importance and variety.

In addition to new displays of African masks as part of VERVE, colleagues are also working on a parallel  - and much larger - display of African masks at ground level. Here, the lead researcher on this work - Zena McGreevy - shows you some of the wonderful masks we've been looking at so far and invites anyone with information about them to get in touch!

Hi my name is Zena and I work at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Over the last few months I have been busy photographing the Museums collection of more than 270 African masks. Ive taken images like this to record each mask and view it from different angles:

Mask from the Idoma people of Nigeria, PRM 1932.33.5 © Pitt Rivers Museum
 Three views of an Igbo mask from Nigeria, PRM 1938.15.8 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Me photographing an African mask © Pitt Rivers Museum

You can explore the collections for yourself using the Object Database on our website. It updates regularly to include any new information or images we add in-house, so you're guaranteed to find all the known information we have. To see all the African masks select mask from the drop-down list in the Classification field then type Africa into the Continent field, then hit Perform Search. You'll discover most of the masks are from Nigeria, plus you can also find examples from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia. If you want to focus on masks from a particular country, simply search again selecting the appropriate country from the drop-down list.

Mask depicting a buffalo head from the Bamum people of Cameroon,  PRM 1959.9.1 B © Pitt Rivers Museum

Views of four-faced helmet mask from Sierra Leone, PRM 1908.23.3 © Pitt Rivers Museum

To find out more about a particular mask, click on an individual record. This will give you all the information we have, including cultural group, specific geographic location and dates (if known), any researcher's or donor's notes, original accession book entries and display captions, etc. You will also be able to see any photographs we have.

Current display of African masks © Pitt Rivers Museum
We are always keen to improve this information, and it can be quite sparse for certain objects which perhaps arrived in the Museum many years ago without much documentation. I am particularly interested in learning and understanding how masks, like these, are used in African masquerade.

Looking at the Museum’s current main display you cannot tell that African masks are often worn as part of a larger masquerade costume. New displays are being planned on the south side of the Museum's ground floor (Court). The main case will focus on clusters of masks from various Nigerian groups - including complete costumes and dynamic images of masquerades - and additional displays of masks from Cameroon and Sierra Leone will be installed above.

Inviting people to look at such up-to-date images is enabling experts around the world to examine this important collection. With their advice and help we intend to provide you with better quality information and displays/visuals, whether you're in the Museum or at your computer. Exciting times ahead! Keep an eye on this blog where I will keep you posted of new developments!

In the meantime, if you have any information you can tell me about the African masks in this collection send an email to


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

A new addition to the project team!

We're delighted to welcome a new member to the VERVE: Need / Make / Use team - Jozie Kettle. 

Hi, I'm Jozie, the new VERVE Communications and Events Officer. Having studied for a Masters degree based at 'the Pitt' from 2010 - 2011, I'm super excited to be returning to contribute to a project as meaningful as VERVE.

To be able to assist with enhancing the accessibility of a collection as fantastic as the Pitt's is a unique opportunity and I'm itching to start. I am particularly looking forward to hitting the road and taking the Pitt Rivers Pop-up Tent on tour...look out for us in a field near you soon!

Previously, I managed events at The Foundling Museum in London and I have experience ranging from organising education days and artists networking events, to Mad Hatter's tea parties, outdoor cinemas, and mass 'soup-ins'!

If you would like any information about upcoming events or activities drop me an email.