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Holly's top five objects

One of our Volunteers, Holly, picks her top five favourite objects from the African Worlds and Centenary Galleries.

‘Exciting changes are afoot at the Horniman. The African Worlds and Centenary galleries are going to be transformed into an exciting new World Gallery and Studio Space. I can’t wait to see the new displays and the thousands of extra objects that will go into them in 2018. Until then, here are my personal favourite objects from the African Worlds and Centenary Galleries:

Lion

The expression on this lion's face never fails to make me smile. It looks quizzical and humorously attentive with its protruding eyes, arched tail and large ears. Its tight grip on its prey, mouth pinched closed, makes me think it must be especially satisfied with what it has caught.

Nkisi

With its lolling tongue, large teeth and disconcerting lack of eyes, this double headed dog is an imposing creature, and that’s before you start counting the nails covering its body.

Nkisi were used to contain and summon spiritual forces during rituals designed to control, change or correct the world around you. They were used for sealing oaths, alleviating illness, protecting against sorcery and punishment of crimes. Each of the nails in this nkisi represents an instance this object was activated. Imagine what type of problem or request each nail represents!

The Benin Plaques

These commemorative plaques depict Benin’s Obas (rulers) and social elite. I love how the figures were skilfully cast in such a high relief, making them stand out far from the patterned backgrounds.

Removed from Benin’s royal palace as part of a punitive expedition by the British in 1897 and sold to museums around the world, the plaques challenged contemporary views of African culture when they were first brought to Europe. Today they remain challenging objects, instead reminding us how different museum collection practices used to be.

Hei Tiki

With its demanding eyes, tilted head, poised limbs and protruding tongue the hei tiki is an iconic symbol of New Zealand. You don't need to go to a museum or marae (Maori greeting area) to see pendants like these. Lots of people wear pounamu (greenstone) in a variety of designs, although most pendants are smaller than these fine examples.

In Maori culture greenstone is a taonga (treasure). Traditionally, greenstone could only be received as a gift and it would increase in mana (prestige) as it was passed from generation to generation.

Merman

With hollow eye sockets, reaching claws, sinewy tendons, emaciated torso and forbidding spikes along its spine, it’s certainly not the beautiful mythical creature I imagine when I think of mermaids.

Mesmerizingly grotesque, the merman is a good example of the craftsmanship required to make a convincing fake. While you logically know it’s not real, it's hard not to be captivated. I wouldn’t even be surprised if some sceptical viewers in the 19th century wanted to believe it was real. After all it would be a fascinating creature to discover… but big and scary enough that you probably won't want to meet it in real life.'