Museum Africa

Museum Africa, originally known as the Africana Museum, was established in 1935 around the vast private collection of Dr. John Gaspard Gubbins. Today, it houses around 850 000 objects and includes significant collections of paintings, manuscripts, African cultural artefacts, Cape silver, ceramics, furniture, photography, costumes, explorer maps and other objects.

During its first 50 years, the museum was housed at the top of the Johannesburg Public Library in Beyers Naude; Square in downtown Johannesburg. Over time, several branches were opened including the Geological Museum (1927), the James Hall Museum of Transport (1963), the Bensusan Museum of Photography (1969), the Museum of South African Rock Art (1969) and the Bernberg Museum of Costume (1973).

In 1974, the old Market Building in Newtown was earmarked for development as a cultural history museum but it took nearly 20 years to realise this vision. Museum Africa eventually took over the rest of the old market buildings that had stood unoccupied for many years and opened its doors in 1994. The move allowed museum staff an opportunity to reconsider the content and significance of the collections. For the first time, the museum provided an inclusive history of South Africa, focusing on worker and black history. The museum also hosted part of the 1st and 2nd Johannesburg Biennales (in 1995 and 1997), which created a dialogue between the global arts community and the previously isolated South African visual art world.

Only a fraction of the museum's collection is on display and there are now plans to extensively revisit these collections and bring new perspectives to bear:

"Museum Africa is Johannesburg's centre for a southern African heritage experience. The latter is informed by the fact that the museum's collection is representative of Southern Africa but it throws up endless questions and areas of contestation about the notion 'African experience(s)'." Ali Hlongwane, curator, 2008

Did You Know?

Did you know that in the early 1900s Newtown was declared an ‘Insanitary Area’? Four thousand residents were forced to leave and the ‘Coolie Location’ was burnt to the ground.