Gift Shop of the National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C.
I cannot emphasize how much I looovvveeee going to galleries, and how much more I looooovvveee going into gallery and museum shops, especially if I am inspired by an exhibition. When I was 17 I was an intern at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., having done stints at the National Museum of African Arts and the Smithsonian Institute's Archives. During that time, breaks were spent perusing nearby galleries and wandering into museum shops where I would scour for items (I could afford) that resonated with my anthropological interests. Not only that, but there was a connectivity to the cultures represented in the exhibitions on a level that transcended the objets d'art that were on display. However, it was only until I devoted my life to living more consciously did I realise how much this connectivity would be tangible.
Photos taken in National Museum of African Art Gift Shop
This trip round I decided to really pay attention to where the majority of the merchandise--particularly in the Freer Gallery of Art, which specialises in Asian art, and the Museum of African Art--came from, and how much the galleries were incorporating their subject matter into their conscious ethos. What I found was a treasure trove of Fairtrade merchandise and transparency that could make anyone giddy. With clear labels as to which items were Fairtrade and who made them swinging from the tags of bags, musical instruments, clothing, accessories and home goods, amongst others, I found myself spending more time reading the labels and the backgrounds of the brands in the store than I did in the galleries themselves.
I had not only found brands that I had heard of, but there were others that were introduced to me there, as well as craft that I was so glad to covet, like stackable recycled plastic bracelets or handwoven fans, which I ended up buying for my family as well. There were also baskets made by the Wolof Weavers of Senegal, and the most stunning fine jewellery coming out of Egypt. I'm still coveting several pieces, that I am contemplating getting before I return to the UK.
Wolof Weavers
In the Arthur Sackler Gallery the attention was driven mostly towards artisan crafted woodwork and clay pots coming out of an artisan studio in Afghanistan called Turquoise Mountain. The museum was hosting an exhibition entitled 'Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan' which showcased how local artisans were keeping traditional artforms alive, which has transformed a slum in Afghanistan into a cultural epicentre through which traditional artistic heritage is being restored. In tandem with the exhibition, which encourages its guests to touch the objects, the Arthur M. Sackler gift shop dedicated a section to selling their pieces.
Turquoise Mountain
Images of Turquoise Mountain's artistry
This is not to say that only these museum gift shops are taking a more conscious, social enterprise approach to what they stock. I have seen a similar theme running across museum gift shops around the world--in Berlin, London, Port-of-Spain, Nairobi, Edinburgh, Cairo, Georgetown...--with the emphasis on stocking artisan-driven, socially conscious items, that not only reflect the museum itself, but the idea that such spaces are meant to create means by which we connect with Others. 
I was so inspired that, as I mentioned before, I not only bought for myself, but for others so that they too could be connected to a cause beyond their immediate selves. I can only hope that they have.
Baskets of Cambodia
Baskets of Cambodia in Arthur M Sackler Gallery Gift Shop


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  1. This post just made me so excited to visit Washington DC's Museums, especially the African Art Museum

  2. In love with everything!