National Museums of Kenya gets grant to restore artworks

The National Museums of Kenya (NMK) has received a grant to restore three pieces of art from the iconic Murumbi Heritage Collection.

Dr Purity Kiura, who is the NMK’s Director of Antiquities, Sites and Monuments said that the Ksh 8,182,500 or USD 75,000 was given by the Bank of America Art Conservation Project.

With the grant, the bank is celebrating a decade of art conservation projects providing grant funding to not-for-profit cultural institutions throughout the world to conserve historically or culturally significant works of art that are in danger of deterioration.

This grant to NMK is one of 23 major art restoration projects in 13 countries being funded by Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project.

Dr Kiura confirmed that the art works to be restored with Bank of America funding are a significant part of the Murumbi African Heritage Collection.

The collection exits courtesy of former vice president Joseph Murumbi’s generous donation to the museum.

Dr. Kuria said the objects selected by NMK and BoA consist of a Yoruba beaded textile crocodile, an Ethiopian canvas painting of St. George slaying the dragon and a Sudanese painting on hide substrate by Salih Mashamoun from the Murumbi African Heritage Collection currently on display at NMK’s Nairobi Gallery.

He said the collection stands out because of its wide selection of rare pieces sourced from all over the continent.

“The Murumbi African Heritage Collection is unique in that it includes everything, ranging from African textiles, jewellery and ancient books that have gone out of print to artifacts collected from all over Africa. It is an extensive private collection of the late Joseph Murumbi, a former vice president who committed his life to the preservation of African art,” said Dr Kiura.

She said the country was fortunate to have the collection which is one of its kind on the continent.

“There is simply no other collection of its kind in Africa. There was also no other collector of Murumbi’s stature in sub-Saharan Africa with such a huge personal collection of African arts,” he said.

The director said the funds would go a long way in preserving the collection for future generations of visitors to view and admire.

“This grant from Bank of America will help preserve the Murumbi artwork and legacy for decades to come,” says Dr Kiura.

On her part, the bank’s global arts and culture executive Rena De Sisto said the gesture was part of a program that has been operational for the last 11 years.

“With the 2021 selections, we have now been able to fund the conservation of over 5,000 individual pieces of art through 195 projects in 36 countries since launching the program in 2010,” said Ms DeSisto.

“It is a privilege to support this important work to safeguard our cultural treasures as we believe in the power of the arts to help economies thrive, educate and enrich societies and create greater cultural understanding,” the bank’s art and culture boss said.

According to Ms DeSisto, the Art Conservation Project is a key element of Bank of America’s programme of arts support worldwide. It is also part of the company’s environmental, social and governance program.

The programme is built on the Bank of America’s belief in the power of the arts to help economies thrive, educate and enrich societies, and create greater cultural understanding.

It includes loaning of the museum’s private art collection to museums at no cost, grants to arts organizations for arts education, as well as the preservation of cultural treasures.

Before the artworks in the collection are restored, they will require different processes to achieve the required levels. This is because they are made from delicate materials like skin, paper and beads.

The conservation process of each piece will be a joint venture between NMK and conservators seconded from the British Museum (BM).

In addition to carrying out conservation treatment for the art pieces, the British Museum Organic Artefact Conservation team will train NMK staff on preventive conservation and collection care advice.

The training will enable the museum staff to care for this collection and other delicate works of art so that they can last for decades in good condition.

As part of this exchange programme, staff from NMK will have an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge relating to materials, techniques of manufacture.

Museum personnel will also be also be schooled on local traditions of repair using the collections in the Murumbi African Heritage Collection.

Through the project, they will get the opportunity to update and boost their knowledge on caring for art collections and which wil inform conservation practice in NMK.  

This project is scheduled to start in late November 2021 and is expected to end in March 2022.

According to Dr Kiura, the project has been organized into two phases.

“Phase one will involve carrying out condition assessment of the three proposed objects, accompanied by a detailed condition report as well as training for local staff. Phase two will involve carrying out the conservation treatment for the three objects which will culminate in exhibition in Nairobi and Mombasa,” she said.

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