Smithsonian National Museum of African Art / by Todd Henson

Garden entrance to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is located in Washington, D.C., along the National Mall and just across from the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. These two museums are separated by a beautiful outdoor garden and share a very similar look to their exterior architecture. The majority of each museum is located below ground, and the two museums actually connect to one another through a lower-level hallway.

Beautiful stairwell in the National Museum of African Art

I love all of the Smithsonian museums I’ve had the pleasure to visit. Not only do they each contain amazing works of art, culture, or engineering, they also were built by very creative architects. There are so many fantastic elements to these buildings, and the National Museum of African Art is no different. I was drawn to one of the stairwells, lit from a skylight overhead and from an entryway above.

Contact by Nandipha Mntambo, viewed through an entryway

This museum contained artwork and cultural items from all over the African continent. Some were very old relics and others were more modern works of art. The piece that most stood out for me this trip was titled Contact, created by Nandipha Mntambo from Swaziland. It’s a sculpture cast from the artist’s body and covered in cowhide and cow hooves, and was inspired by a ship’s figurehead. The piece is beautifully displayed on a dark brown wall, with spotlights highlighting the artwork. I first viewed the piece through an entryway from another part of the museum, and I was immediately transfixed by this piece. Something about it spoke to me.

Contact by Nandipha Mntambo, displayed in the National Museum of African Art

We walked through several other rooms full of interesting and beautiful pieces. Below are images from some of the ones I was most drawn to.

Crest Mask, part of the Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection at the National Museum of African Art

The Crest Mask is part of the Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection, which is a current highlight of the museum.

Ethiopian shield made from leather and silver alloy

I’ve always been drawn to arms and armor from different cultures and times, so I was pulled in by the Ethiopian shield made from leather and silver alloy. It’s an amazing piece.

Silver coffee pot from the Sultanate of Oman

I loved the details and the shapes of the silver coffee pot from the Sultanate of Oman.

Swahili chest from Tanzania

Ornate Swaili chest from Tanzania

Swahili door and frame from Tanzania

In the corner of one gallery hall were an ornate chest displayed in front of a door in its frame. These were both Swahili pieces from Tanzania. I was fascinated by the details and the craftsmanship.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is a fantastic museum. I highly recommend you visit if you have the opportunity. These Smithsonian museums really are a treasure, one I hope to revisit many times. Have you ever visiting the National Museum of African Art? Which pieces were you most drawn to?