Collecting the Asante

African Agency in a Pre-colonial Assemblage

in Volume 3 (2015): Issue 1 (Jul 2015)
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In 1818 Thomas Edward Bowdich presented a small collection of artifacts to the British Museum that was assembled during the first diplomatic mission to Asante in 1817. Unfortunately, Bowdich did not disclose how he went about forming this collection but circumstantial evidence contained in his published account (1819) and archival records strongly suggest that a small number of these items, including seven examples of gold work, were given by the King of Asante to Bowdich for the British Museum. This article will present new research that calls into question the artistic, economic, and technological interpretations that have dominated the public display and reception of these items since their acquisition. By reexamining the social and political contexts within which these objects were collected and donated, an undeniable African agency is revealed that demonstrates that efforts were made to self-promote and represent.

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