Africa at The Field Museum provides visitors with a broad introduction to the African continent and people of African descent in a multi-cultural, multidisciplinary approach. A collaborative effort among African and African-American scholars helped create hands-on activities, multimedia presentations, and collections displays to give visitors a deeper understanding of Africa. The very look and feel of the continent – its past, present, people and worldwide influence – emerge in a bold light.
Visitors are drawn into Africa by a lively and festive marketplace recreation from a bustling street in Dakar, Senegal. There they meet multiple African citizens through displays and interviews, and can even join a Senegalese family in their celebration of Tabaski, a Muslim holy day. Continuing through the exhibition, visitors dive deeper into the historical culture of Africa. Stunning works of art from the major art-producing regions of the Cameroon grass fields and Zaire are shown alongside functional pieces and tools of war. Visitors can see the variety of materials used in making crafts and how the line between art and war dissolves in traditional African weapons. The significance of mining and metalworking is shown through a hands-on activity where visitors can try out a unique bellows and see how the Benin people created bronze and ivory works.
In addition to the cultural aspects of African people, visitors also encounter the wildlife of the diverse African ecosystems. Stepping into the Savannah, the food eaten by giraffes and rhinos are on display next to antelope and a full-scale hippopotamus. Visitors are able to visit a recreation of a biologist’s field lab. There, they meet scientists who work with Africa’s gorillas and learn what kinds of things researches must prepare for life in the jungle. Next, displays and dioramas show how the unique animals of the Sahara have managed to survive one of the toughest climates in the world. Visitors discover how humans have survived in the unforgiving desert, and explore the complex desert ecosystem on a caravan trip to the Kano marketplace in Nigeria.
Finally, the African Diaspora section helps visitors understand the roots and consequences of slavery. This includes the immediate implications for the African population at the time, and also examines the adaptations and innovations brought to the contemporary world by African descendants. Visitors can learn the various ways in which they maintained their ethnic identity and pride within the multicultural Americas.
Africa is a journey through one of the most complex continents on Earth and an in-depth look at its people. Visitors leave the exhibition with a greater understanding of how Africa affects all of us, especially today, and with a new appreciation for its history, ecology and culture.