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REVIEW. “West Africa: word, symbol, song” at the British Library

Thanks to its focus on West Africans telling the stories of West Africa and its well-thought out multi-dimensional delivery, the ‘West Africa: word, symbol, song’ exhibition at the British Library is powerfully insightful and approachable to all, from academic specialists to children and reluctant museum-goers. Camille Jacob took part in the curator-led tour with Dr Janet Topp Fargion and explains more about the event.   The exhibition “West Africa: word, symbol, song” at the British Library explores 1000 years of West African history(ies) through over 200 objects, including books, manuscripts, songs, videos, musical instruments, artworks, masks and textiles. This event aims to question the stereotype of an African continent made of a clash between oral traditions and imposed Western values by showcasing the long intellectual tradition of the region through the breadth and wealth of literature and graphic/symbolic systems as well as the complexity of oral literature. The organisation of the exhibition (five loose spaces, generally chronological) is closer in style to the Musée du Quai Branly’s thematic approach than other traditional institutions’ focus on colonial boundaries. Even though it is very immersive (with music through speakers, headphones, in “pods”), this is not a systematic overview of West African history […]

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