The World Art collection contains more than 13,000 objects from Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Americas.
Many of these items were collected by British people in the period 1860-1940. Some of these people were travellers, some were missionaries; many were involved in some way in Britain’s colonial activities. For this reason, much of the World Art collection reflects places where Britain had a colonial presence, for example India and West Africa.
The collection spans many time periods, from prehistory to the present day. It includes many different kinds of objects: masks, sculpture, textiles, domestic tools, agricultural tools, hunting and fishing implements, religious artefacts and more.
The World Art collection has been Designated as a collection of national importance by Arts Council England. While the collection spans many time periods, cultures and media, highlights include:
- A range of objects reflecting traditions of masquerade and puppetry around the world. This includes puppets (rod puppets, marionettes and shadow puppets) from Vietnam, China, India, Burma (Myanmar) and Indonesia, and masks and masquerade costumes from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Mexico and New Ireland (Papua New Guinea).
- An extensive collection of historic African textiles, including a group of ‘kpokpo’ woven textiles created in Sierra Leone around 1880; a ‘batakari’ gown covered in leather amulets, taken during the British Punitive Expedition to Kumasi (Ghana) in 1874; embroidered men’s gowns, or ‘riga’, from Nigeria; examples of hide clothing and beadwork collected in southern Africa around 1890; and a large collection of late 19th / early 20th century beadwork representing Zulu and Xhosa makers in South Africa.
- Textiles and accessories representing ethnic minority groups living in South East Asia, particularly in Burma (Myanmar), such as the Kachin, Chin and Shan, and groups such as those that make up the Miao community in South West China.