Touch Table Exhibits Let Visitors Delve Into the Diversity of African Art


Smithsonian National Museum of African Art


Washington, D.C.

Ideum recently completed an intensive and rewarding collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. to design and develop a compelling introduction to the Museum’s unique collection. This interactive experience lets guests view images and information on more than 200 items in the collection. These works encompass both traditional and contemporary pieces drawn from the entire continent, including numerous items not currently on view.

Designing the experience allowed us to address intriguing challenges, such as providing information about the artists and the continent while maintaining focus on the artworks themselves. Working closely with SNMAfA curators, we created four interactive stations to provide visitors with several ways to explore the collection and learn more about Africa’s diversity and vibrancy.

Three of these zones allow guests to quickly and intuitively browse artworks and select pieces for deeper investigation. Here, images of paintings, sculptures, and media pieces appear on a dynamic map of Africa designed to incorporate colors and textures from key artworks. Tapping an image opens a new window with additional information about the work and the artist. Visitors can pan and zoom in on high-resolution images to view fine details, pinpoint the object’s origin, and learn about related artistic traditions. If the object is currently on display in the Museum, this area also provides information on where it can be found.

The fourth zone presents options for investigating broader information on Africa, including historical, cultural, and geographical data selected to provide greater context and deepen understanding of the entire continent. This section also includes questions prompting visitors to reflect on their own knowledge and preconceptions of Africa—a continent that, with 1.3 billion people, is the world’s second-most populous.

The exhibit, which runs on two custom Ideum Platform multitouch tables in the newly-renovated entrance pavilion, debuted in October at the Museum’s home on the National Mall, steps from the famous Smithsonian Castle. The opening gala celebrated the 2019 African Art Awards.

This is Ideum’s fifth collaboration with a Smithsonian museum: we also been fortunate to work with the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery.