Powell-Cotton Museum to display first new collection in more than 50 years

Work crafted by Ovambo women will be displayed Photo Erasmus Stephanus

By Dan Thompson

The Powell-Cotton Museum in Birchington is going to display its first new collection in more than 50 years, which will showcase contemporary culture and experiences from the African continent.

The museum has been working with Ovambo women in Northern Namibia. In 1936-37 Diana and Antoinette Powell-Cotton collected approximately 4500 objects from northern Namibia and southern Angola, building one of the largest collections from the region by European collectors.

That collection includes clothes and accessories made for special occasions, particularly those worn by women for marriage and initiation ceremonies. The new collection has been commissioned from six women in northern Namibia who continue to make these outfits.

To collect the new work, Dr Napandulwe Shiweda (University of Namibia, Windhoek), Dr Nicola Stylianou (University of Sussex), and Erasmus Stephanus (filmmaker and photographer based in Ongwediva, Namibia) spent a week travelling in the Oshana region of northern Namibia.

Photo Erasmus Stephanus

They met with Ovambo women Tresia Shekudja, Saara W Simoni, Rebecca Hialulwa, Lucia Kandjengo, Ndehafa Kakonda, and Laina Wmetupunga, who continue to make outfits like the ones the Powell-Cotton’s originally collected.

They discussed the museum’s historic collection and asked each of the women how they would like to see their community and work represented in the Powell-Cotton Museum.

They also worked with Maria Caley, Lecturer in Visual Arts at the University of Namibia (Windhoek). Maria’s students have created textile designs based on objects from the museum’s Angolan and Namibian collections. Work by students Erikka Kapiye, Laimmy N. Moses and Shiyelekeni Silas were also added to the museum’s collections.

“We need to stop ‘speaking for’ others and give up the space for the communities historically ‘collected’ by museums to speak freely on their own terms,” the museum says. “Putting Ovambo women at the heart of a project to make a contemporary collection that will be on long-term display will signal to the communities whose objects we hold that we are serious about changing how we work.”

The new collection will open to the public on Saturday 24th June. Namibian Narratives features skirts, beadwork, and a doll, all commissioned specially by the museum.

Visit powell-cottonmuseum.org for more information.


    • The museum is open about Old Powell Cotton shooting and killing natives on his journeys but the museum has moved on from that. leave Mr Powell Cotton in the past where he belongs

  1. When are the trustees going to do a yearly ticket so we can enjoy all the gardens, museum and house like before. The trustees have a haven of artifacts in there and only open on special days What a waste of time and resources this needs to be open to the public every day like before.

  2. Agree, it was really nice to walk in the gardens during the week when the children were at school, peace and quiet, with benches to sit on and have time to yourself.

  3. Visits to the house are also now restricted which was altered but not built by the Major – pushed to the background in haste to catch up with its own neglect of curatorial insight.

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