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This is a name that gives rise to numerous associations. But what is really behind all this? This exhibition of the Übersee-Museum highlights a multifarious continent that reveals new cognitions, and also, occasionally, astounding insights. Valuable originals from the museum's collection, different forms of media, impressive dioramas and models offer diverse approaches to discover both present-day and historical Africa.

Life in the vibrating metropolis of Nairobi as well as the fascinating natural areas and Africa's abundance of natural resources; the eventful history of the continent and not least also the incarnation are emphasized in main thematic areas. However, on the journey through these five spheres, there is even more to be discovered. The works of contemporary African artists unveil new perspectives and contribute to the exhibition.

We thank our partners for their support, which made it possible to renew the Africa exhibition. Furthermore, it was possible to modernise the illumination due to grants donated by the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety.


Everyday Life

Worldwide, Africa registers the highest rate of urbanisation. More and more people are leaving the countryside to move to the cities. Yet, what do their daily lives look like? The example of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, offers insights in to key facets of daily life such as, for instance, habitation, fashion, education and traffic. Here important differences, but also links between life in the city and the countryside, can be seen.

Six Video Portraits from Kenya

Sam Hopkins and Slum-TV, 2013
Co-Producers: Esther Waweru, Elijah Mumo, EphantusKariuki, IdahOpollo, Collins Omondi, Pauline Awuor and Sophia Bauer

Script Life: At the centre of these films are six people from Nairobi and rural Kenya. A fashion designer, rapper, real estate agent, teacher, farmer and motorcycle taxi driver re-enact a day in their lives. The source material for these films was provided by diaries that were specifically written for this purpose by the persons portrayed. The director, Sam Hopkins, is a conceptual artist and lives in Nairobi, as do the members of the media collective Slum-TV.

“Karibu Mtaa”

Maasai Mbili, 2013
Collage, different materials

Welcome to the quarter: This is the translation of the name "Karibu Mtaa" of this mural collage. It conveys the impression of the very different lifestyles that are cultivated in the four neighbourhoods of Nairobi, presented here. The yellow lines are the distinguishing marks of the Matatu buses that connect these neighbourhoods into one metropolis. The Maasai Mbili artists group was founded in 2001 and works in Kibera, Nairobi.


West Africa, before 1955

Music steeped in history: The pentatonic harp, or Kora, is the instrument of the Griots in West Africa. For a long time they were highly regarded as praise singers and poets, and acted as historians of different societies. The epic texts and the art of playing the instruments were passed on within the family. Many famous modern-day West-African musicians are descendent from the tradition of the Griots.


Kenya, 2013

Practical mode of transport: The phrase "Boda-Boda" is reminiscent of the English word "border". In the 1960s, first bicycles and subsequently motorcycles served as a speedy mode of transport to the Kenyan-Ugandan border. From there they spread throughout the entire region. Today they are an inexpensive and speedy alternative to buses or share taxis, especially in cities.

Car models

Nairobi, Kenya, 2012

Just like the big ones: If one were to ask the inhabitants of Nairobi about a typical feature of the city, quite a number would refer to the continual traffic jams. These toy cars are replicas of the Kenyan capital's characteristic mode of transport. They are manufactured by Raha Toys, a small workshop in the Mathare Valley slum area. Here toys are made from recycled materials, in loving care and attention to detail.

School uniforms

Nairobi, Kenya, 2012

Children in uniformed clothing: Based on the British model, every school in Kenya has an own uniform. These uniforms are controversial among the pupils. Some of them wear the uniforms with great pride, whilst others would rather attend school wearing their own clothes. The government-funded schools are free of charge. However, for parents with a small income, purchasing a school uniform is a considerable financial burden.

Habitat Desert

About two third of the northern land surface of Africa is covered by desert. Despite the apparently hostile conditions, numerous plants and animals live here. Just as humans - by adapting to this habitat - plants and animals have succeeded in living here. However, no matter how fascinating the desert may be: Its continual expansion is posing a major challenge both for man and nature

Carrion Flowers

Strong-scented beauty: The stapelia, also known as the carrion flower, stores water in its tissue. Thus it is excellently adapted to survive in arid locations. The large, flesh-coloured blossoms exude a carrion-like smell that attracts flies, which then pollinate the blooms. The deception is so perfect that the flies even lay their eggs on the blossoms. As a result of this, the larvae starve to death.

Model of the Town of Djigué

Scale 1: 87

Vegetables in the desert: The Malian town of Djigué is situated in the heart of the Sahelian zone. The desert is continually growing due to overgrazing and deforestation. The people of Djigués would like to combat its expansion and their poverty. They are mutually cultivating a garden in which fruit and vegetables are grown. They are building wells and, thanks to a regulated allocation of water, for the first time ever, they are successful at creating a foundation for a fair, reliable and predictable water supply.

Desert Fox

Pricking up their ears: To avoid the heat of the day, the desert fox goes hunting during dusk, dawn and at night. Because it sees only very little in the dark, it has to deploy other senses if it wishes to track down its prey. The fox's keen sense of hearing is beneficial in this regard. Thanks to its large ears, it can hear even the slightest noises and locate where they come from.

Screwhorn Antelope

Endangered desert dweller: In the past, the screwhorn antelope used to be widespread throughout large parts of the Sahara. Today it is virtually extinct due to excessive hunting. The animal is able to increase its body temperature independently, thus avoiding overheating and water loss brought on by transpiration. Because its diet of vegetables provides sufficient moisture, it can survive without water for a long time. A source of water during dry spells is a cucurbit, the bitter cucumber.

Oasis Model

Flourishing desert: To live in a desert, people are dependent on oases. They are used, among others, for agricultural purposes. An ingenious irrigation system is a prerequisite for this. The date palms play an important role for the success of the harvest. Not only do they provide nutrition and construction timber; they also offer shade for sensitive plants such as oranges, onions and carrots.

Western Sahara

Excluded: The state of Morocco has occupied Western Sahara since 1976. This has been condemned by the UNO. To delimit the claimed territory, Morocco has built up a sand wall in the desert and mined the area. Because of this, the Saharawi living there had to leave their original living space. Today, many of them live in Algerian refugee camps.


Coffee, cocoa, tobacco, cotton or coltan - numerous raw materials that are used in everyday life in Europe come from the African continent. In the meantime the national parks are also an important source of income, as tourist destinations. Nevertheless: Presently, the Africans cannot tap into this potential for their own benefit. The result is half a billion people living from merely one Dollar per day



Valuable carbon: A large number of famous diamonds come from Africa. It is here that the world's largest reserves are thought to be. Only a few international companies mine and market a large share of the yield. Small mines and independent prospectors frequently work in hazardous conditions. Most of the time, they sell their finds to the local rulers or supra-regional buyers for prices below market value. They only retain a fraction of the profit.

Pirogues from Senegal

No hope for a better future at home: While it is possible to get a job in Europe when people are well-educated, allowing them to enter Europe legally, most Africans only have the option of coming to Europe illegally. When embarking on the perilous sea route, those who get into these little boats put their lives at risk. Most of the time, people smugglers have to be paid and only rarely do refugees succeed at reaching the destination of their dreams.

Sustainable Timber Industry

Thinking of tomorrow today: Approximately 30 per cent of the jungle in the Congo Basin is being economically exploited. The states have handed over the right of use to local or foreign companies for a certain period. To cultivate a large plantation so that the resources are preserved, one of a number of measures is that, every 30 years, no more than 3 trees may be cut per hectare. By means of this, the forest can recover.

Brabant Tilapia

Beholding evolution: In Lake Tanganyika, a large number of tilapia species have developed from merely a few species. The Brabant tilapia would be one example in this case. It is found in the different regions of the lake and in a variety of colours. Since the exchange with fellow species from other areas of the lake is quite low, new species can also develop from this fish's colour varieties in future.


Maternal care: The young still remain with their mother for quite some time after birth. Initially there are still plenty of dangers lurking in the form of lions, hyenas and leopards, and the little ones have to be kept hidden from them. Later on their mother teaches them to hunt little gazelles and antelopes. Up to two years pass before they are able to lead an independent life.

Grey go-away-bird

Very vocal companion: Due to its loud call, which sounds like "go away", this bird is called the go-away-bird. In Africa it is found in shrubland areas, savannah and backwoods south of the equator. Numerous birds are frequently found sitting together high up in the treetops. The grey go-away bird's diet consists predominantly of fruits, which also explains why it is rather unpopular with fruit farmers and gardeners.


Hundreds of ethnic groups in 54 still young nation states, which were established by Europeans, have led to a profoundly heterogeneous Africa. Different societal structures exist alongside one another and regulate the cohabitation of the people. Kingdoms that are many centuries old; law-enforcing federal societies or traditional religions are continuing in a constantly changing form and encountering present-day development.

Garment Olohundes, Egungun courier for tolerance and peace

Sakété, Benin, 1980s
Collection Henning Christoph, 2012

Richly ornamented appearance: The Egungung appeared in masked garments as this one. They are the spirits of the ancestors, which leave the realm of the dead for a certain period of time. The ancestors speak through the masked carrier during burial ceremonies. He provides consolation, warns participants and gives advice in the event of family disputes and inheritance issues. The failure to observe his judgments can lead to punishments.

Looking for Grace

Sokari Douglas Camp, 2013
Stahl, Nickel

Developed further: In "Looking for Grace", the Nigerian artist, Sokari Douglas Camp, addresses the time of German domination in Namibia and the genocide of the Herero people. Her sculpture is wearing the present-day traditional costume. By adding an own form of headdress to the colonial fashion of the time, Herero women found a creative way of appropriating the clothing that they were, in part, forced to wear.

Painting Amadou Bamba

Mamadou Ndiaye, 2013
Dakar, Senegal

Focus on the founder of a religion: Images of Amadou Bamba can be seen in numerous locations throughout Senegal. Be it in this form, as a painting by the artist Mamadou Ndiaye, who is living in Dakar, as graffiti on vehicles and house fronts, or as pendants and T-shirt imprints. Around 1900, Amadou Bamba founded the Islamic Muridiyya reform movement, which ranks among the most influential Sufi brotherhoods in Senegal to this very day.

Gelede Mask

Egba, Nigeria, before 1971

Embellished wood craft: The scarification is clearly visible on this Yoruba mask. They used the skin scarification marks as body jewellery and also to express their provenance. Thus it was already apparent at first glance from which social class or region the person standing opposite one was from. Although the ornamentation of people's faces is hardly found anymore today, art objects are still decorated in this way.

Menelik II

Battle of Adwa (1896)
Painter unknown, tempera on canvas

Already virtually a documentary: This painting mirrors the central rule in the empire of Abyssinia, which is present-day Ethiopia. With the purpose of entrenching his position of power, Emperor Menelik II., left on the horse, formed numerous national and international alliances. By means of a centrally-steered military, he even conquered the Italians in the battle of Adwa in 1896, thereby preventing the advance of a colonial power.

Canopic Jars

Probably Thebes/ West First Intermediate Period - Late Period (9th - 4th Century B.C.).

Protected property: For the ancient Egyptians, the retention of their physical body was a prerequisite for life after death. Thus, among others, the inner organs of the deceased were removed, mummified and stored in separate jars. These "canopic jars" and their contents were protected by the four sons of the god Horus. Because of this, the lids were designed with human, jackal, falcon and baboon heads.


Until such time as earth could become a habitat for Homo sapiens - modern-day man - quite a number of steps were necessary in the evolutionary chain. When tracing this development back about seven million years, the trail leads to Africa - the cradle of humanity. Today, thanks to science and research, quite a lot is known about our ancestors. However, why some species became extinct and others survived is still one of many unsolved mysteries.

Australopithecus afarensis

Tracks in volcanic ash: About 3.6 million years ago, numerous individuals of the Australopithecus afarensis species left their footprints in the moist volcanic ash in Laetoli, Tanzania. Although these prehistoric men still spent a lot of time in trees, these footprints prove that they could already walk upright and wander across the plains at a leisurely pace of 2 to 4 kilometres per hour.

Hand axe

Swiss knife of the Stone Age: This hand axe was found in Vailly in France. It was most likely made by a Homo erectus in the Old Stone Age. Hand axes count among the best known stone tools of our ancestors. They were versatile and easy to produce. The oldest presently known hand axes originated in Kenya and are about 1.76 million years old.

Homo habilis

Face to face: This reconstruction of a head is based on the original skull of a female Homo habilis. She lived in Kenya 1.9 to 1.8 million years ago and reached a height of 1.20m. With this kind of reconstruction, which is also deployed in criminological forensics, it is possible to recreate the distinctive characteristics of an individual's face in absolute detail.

Paranthropus boisei

The nutcracker human: This male Paranthropus boisei used to live in Tanzania about 1.8 million years ago and reached a size of about 1.40m. The powerful jaw with the huge molars helped these pre-historic men masticate their highly fibrous plant nutrition. It is likely that climatic changes and competitive pressure led to its extinction.

Sahelanthropus tchadensis

Man or ape? Sahelanthropus tchadensis used to live in Central Africa about 7 million years ago, which is close to the present-day Lake Chad. Some scientists believe it to be the oldest representative from the human strain. The point of attachment of the spine to the skull suggests that this early pre-man could already walk upright. Therefore, the upright-walking chimpanzees served as an example for this Sahelanthropus group.


El Loko, 2012-2013
Digitalised Collage, direct printing on sheet of glass, with ceramic colours

Virtually identical and yet different: Today there are about 7 billion people. Despite different appearances, their genetic differences are minor. This is what the artist EL Loko, who comes from Togo, takes a critical look at in his triptych. In the centre, he addresses the issue of the mutual roots; in the outer parts, he picks up on the tension between the similarities and differences of people.