Ode to the Ancestors

See archival photographs from the 1920s to the present day, celebrating both African heritage and the contributions of Africans to their own histories.

A sister exhibition featuring the same images is being held by National Museums of Kenya, at Fort Jesus.

The two exhibitions commemorate the many African Kenyan archaeologists whose names are absent from archaeological archives.

The historic images and stories of African archaeologists are presented alongside new works by a group of young people with African and Caribbean heritage in the UK.

Their exhibits express what reclaiming African history means to them.

Students in Kenya have also undertaken research and their findings will be available online.

Sherry Davis

Ode to the Ancestors is curated by musician, filmmaker and curator, Sherry Davis.

A former Community Action Researcher, Sherry has spent much of 2022 researching the names of Kenyan archaeologists, conservators and heritage professionals, in partnership with photographer and researcher Okoko Ashikoye and colleagues at National Museums of Kenya.

Sherry is reclaiming her family’s history, inspired by her grandfather Karisa Ndurya. Karisa played an important role excavating ancient monuments in Kenya from the 1940s to 70s, but his name – along with those of his peers – is nowhere to be found at the sites.

Passport photo of Karisa Ndurya

Karisa Ndurya passport photo. Credit: Sherry Davis, personal collection


My late grandfather Karisa Ndurya was one of the first Africans to excavate ancient monuments in Kenya. He worked as a foreman during the colonial period, alongside a British archaeologist, James Kirkman. Kirkman and other Europeans are acknowledged all over sites like Fort Jesus but no Africans have their names commemorated on the walls.

Ode to the Ancestors at the Horniman and its sister exhibition at Fort Jesus are correcting the narrative, unearthing the important work of Africans around built heritage, celebrating their contributions, and finally giving them the credit they deserve.
Sherry Davis

Lead image: Kamoya Kimeu and John Onyango, two prominent Kenyan archaeologists, excavating a Neolithic burial site, 1974-75. © National Museums of Kenya.

With thanks to Professor George Okello Abungu, Raphael Igombo, Jimbi Katana, Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp, Fatma Twahir and Jimmy Maranga.