Museum of African Culture
Portland has always been a prominent curator of the arts in Maine, and the Museum of African Culture in downtown Portland reflects the area’s growing interest in the customs, culture, and art coming from the beauty and mystery of Africa. Specializing in tribal art and culture, some of which focuses on ancient customs still prevalent in rural African society, the Museum of African Culture presents a multifaceted nuance of the African diaspora. Visitors to the museum can explore the museum’s vast Contemporary Art Gallery, several permanent and changing exhibits, and a wide array of events, including discussions, workshops, and performances by black artists living in Maine as well as other artists who draw inspiration from the African Diaspora.
Backstory and Context
Collection at the Museum
The Museum of African Culture is the only museum in New England devoted entirely to Sub-Saharan African art and culture. Its permanent collection showcases a broad spectrum covering some of the most interesting aspects of the African Diaspora, and the collection features over 1,500 objects both large and small.
Some highlights to see within the collection include elaborately carved tribal masks, bronzes and ivory flutes made 1,000 years ago, clay vessels from 2,000 years ago, and a variety of utilitarian objects, textiles, ceramic, bone, ivory, and other composite objects.1
Museum Features and Events
The Museum of African Culture has reached an audience of over one million people through a mix of exciting exhibits, outreach programs, public events, and much more. Through the use of art, music, storytelling, healing, literature, and ceremonies related to Sub-Saharan African culture and the tradition, the museum carries the proud role of being a teacher and cultural enrichment center for communities across Maine.
The Museum of African Culture also features a rotating exhibit in its Heritage Gallery, and exhibit discussions are always available to visiting guests. Other regularly scheduled programs include “Friends of Africa,” where someone from the community shares a story of travel, humanitarian work, academic work, or perspective on historic, political or social issues; “The Artist’s Story” features an evening where an artist tells the story and processes behind his/her art; “Discussion and Performance of Spirit Mask” includes an evening with the Nigerian-born museum director, Oscar Mokeme, who shares his knowledge of the Spirit Mask and then allows the Spirit Mask to offer blessings and healing to the audience; and “African Movies, an evening featuring a movie produced in Africa.
Special events also occur throughout the year, including a celebration of Africa’s women, edible culinary exhibitions, and many others.2
The African Center for the Sacred Arts
As museum director and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Maine College of Art, Oscar Mokeme has dedicated his life to the study of Sub-Saharan African culture, art, and society. Born in Nigeria, Mokeme has also apprenticed traditional Igbo healing medicine (Igbo is the ethnic group from southeastern Nigeria).
This apprenticeship combined with his knowledge of Igbo practices led Mokeme to establish the African Center for the Sacred Arts. Located within the museum, this center uses its displayed artifacts to educate the community about healing ceremonies. Furthermore, Mokeme also practices traditional pluralistic trans-cultural Igbo therapies and healing rituals.3