When you picture Africa, what do you see? Do you see a vast, fertile continent home to some of the world’s oldest and most advanced civilizations? Or do you see a country filled with corruption, AIDS and ethnic strife?
Do you envision the beauty of the Serengeti or the bustling of Lagos? Or do you picture a “Dark Continent” burdened with starving children and cities of slums and refugee camps? When you close your eyes and imagine Africa, what do you see?
The Penn Museum temporary gallery installation, “Imagine Africa,” invites visitors to share their thoughts, imaginings, points-of-view and assumptions about Africa in order to help the Museum re-envision its Africa Gallery for the 21st century.
Jean Byrne, community engagement director at the Museum, says the Africa Gallery has not been renovated since it was installed nearly 100 years ago.
On Wednesday, Oct. 26, the Museum is hosting a free Community Night from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., inviting everyone to explore Africa through an evening of traditional and modern music, dance and poetry.
Byrne says there will be a hip-hop workshop led by local dance company Rennie Harris RHAW, a spoken word performance by the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, a dance routine by African Rhythms, a Penn student dance troupe, and belly dancing with Habiba.
“We’re also going to be offering everything that we have in the Museum,” Byrne says. “All the galleries will be free.” Complimentary refreshments will also be served.
The Museum will be hosting five other community afternoons and evenings in 2012: on March 28 and May 23, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., and on Feb. 18, April 21 and Sept. 15, from 1 to 4 p.m.
Byrne says the community nights are just one aspect of a year of programming set around Africa; other events include lectures by Penn professors and a large outreach effort to attract area schoolchildren.
The “Imagine Africa” installation opened on Sept. 18 and runs through Sept. 16, 2012. Byrne says the response has been “incredibly engaging, especially to students, both college students and elementary and high school students, which I think is really interesting because in the age of expressing yourself via Twitter and Facebook, this exhibit really resonates with them because they’re used to being very forthcoming with opinions.”