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Zachary Kingdon was born in Uganda. He is an alumnus of Edinburgh University, where he received an honours degree in Social Anthropology. He gained both an MA and PhD in advanced studies in non-western art from the Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia. During a subsequent fellowship at the Sainsbury Research Unit, Zachary re-wrote his PhD on migrant Makonde blackwood sculptors in Tanzania as a book, which was published by Routledge in 2002, with the title: A Host of Devils: The History and Context of the Making of Makonde Spirit Sculpture.
Zachary worked on a variety of exhibition and museology projects before joining National Museums Liverpool as Curator of African Collections in 1999. While at National Museums Liverpool Zachary led on the development of the Africa displays of the 2005 Heritage Lottery funded World Cultures gallery. From 2005 to 2007 he led in the development of most of the West Room of the International Slavery Museum at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. In 2009 Zachary was awarded a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship that allowed him to spend nine months conducting primary research in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and in UK archives, towards his second monograph book, Ethnographic Collecting and African Agency in Early Colonial West Africa: A Study of Trans-Imperial Cultural Flows (Bloomsbury 2019).
Zachary’s wide ranging research work on African arts and collections has been fundamentally concerned with agency, creativity, and the metaphysical. His first book examined how the invisible, or metaphysical, nature of spirits was articulated visually through the formal and aesthetic principles that informed the creation of spirit sculptures made by wood carvers from migrant communities of Mozambican Makonde people in Tanzania. It showed how the creation of these works connected with assumptions that underpin a regional system of knowledge and practice within which spirits function as formats for expression. With respect to a few accomplished sculptors of spirit figures, it explored the personal, cultural and sociological implications of their exercise of original creative agency.
Zachary’s more recent research, which culminated in his 2019 book, Ethnographic Collecting and African Agency in Early Colonial West Africa, focused on the agency of elite West Africans who contributed to the World Museum Liverpool collection. In countering the perception of African passivity and silence in the context of colonial relations, largely created by the frequent writing-out of African voices in European narratives, the book is concerned with reinserting West Africans as active actors and real people responding in complex and selective ways to the encounter with Europe, and to particular Europeans, within the frame of colonisation. In so doing it aims to help reassess the extent to which African agency may be understood to have been a factor in determining the nature of African collections in British museums.
Zachary has partnered with colleagues from various museums to promote research and critical thinking around museum practices and the futures of colonial collections from Africa. In order to help address historical legacies of injustice embodied in specific museum collections, he has worked inclusively to bring African and African Diaspora voices and concerns into the forefront of exhibition creation processes. From 2018 to 2022 Zachary contributed to National Museums Liverpool’s World Cultures gallery redevelopment project. Working with the artist Leo Asemota and through discussion workshops with a focus group drawn from Liverpool’s African diaspora communities, he collaboratively developed concepts and key messages for a revised display of National Museums Liverpool’s collection from the Edo Kingdom titled Benin and Liverpool (March 2022).
Zachary joined National Museums Scotland as Senior Curator, African Collections in June 2022.
Kingdon, Z. (2021) ‘From “Bush” to “Boudoir”’ In Zoe Cormack and Cherry Leonardi eds. Pieces of a Nation: South Sudanese heritage and museum collections, Leiden: Sidestone Press.
Kingdon, Z. (2021) ‘Creativity and Participatory Practice: Workshopping the Redisplay of the World Museum Liverpool’s Benin Collection’, Journal of Museum Ethnography, March 2021, No. 34, pp. 19-34.
Kingdon, Z. (2019) Ethnographic Collecting and African Agency in Early Colonial West Africa: A Study of Trans-Imperial Cultural Flows, London and New York: Bloomsbury.
2015 ‘Subtracting the Narrative: Trade, Collecting, and Forgetting in the Kongo Coast Friction Zone during the Late Nineteenth Century,’ Museum Worlds: Advances in Research, Vol. 3, 2015. Pp. 18-36.
Kingdon, Z. (2014) ‘The Queen as an Aku Woman? Reassessing ‘Yoruba’ Queen Victoria Portrait Figures’. African Arts, Autumn 2014, Vol. 47, No.3, pp.8-23.
Kingdon, Z. (2014) Review article of ‘Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley’, edited by Marla C. Berns, Richard Fardon, and Sidney Littlefield Kasfir. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011. In African Arts, Summer 2014, Vol. 47, No.2, pp.91-92.
Kingdon, Z. and D. van den Bersselaar (2008) ‘Collecting Empire? African objects, West African trade, and a Liverpool museum.’ In Sheryllynne Haggerty, Anthony Webster and Nicholas J. White(eds.), The Empire in One City?: Liverpool’s inconvenient imperial past, Manchester: Manchester University Press. Pp. 100-122.
Kingdon, Z. (2008) ‘Reinterpreting the African Collections of the World Museum Liverpool’, Critical Interventions, 1 (2): 31-41.
Kingdon, Z. and Hassan Arero (2005) ‘Introduction: Visual Culture and Creativity in Eastern Africa, Reviewing a Neglected Branch of the Discipline.’ In Hassan Arero and Zachary Kingdon (eds.) East African Contours: Reviewing Creativity and Visual Culture, Contributions in Critical Museology and Material Culture Series (Horniman Museum: London)
Kingdon, Z. (2005) ‘Creative Frontiers: Sculptural Innovation and Social Transformation in Eastern Africa.’ In Hasan Arero and Zachary Kingdon (eds.) East African Contours: Reviewing Creativity and Visual Culture, Contributions in Critical Museology and Material Culture Series (Horniman Museum: London)
Kingdon, Z. (2005) ‘Sculpture and Identity: The Makonde Blackwood Carving Movement.’ In A B Cunningham, B Belcher & B M Campbell (eds.), Carving Out a Future: tropical forests, livelihoods and the international woodcarving trade (Earthscan: London).
Kingdon, Z. (2002) A Host of Devils: The History and Context of the Making of Makonde Spirit Sculpture, London: Routledge.
Kingdon, Z. (1996) Chanuo Maundu: ‘Master of Makonde Blackwood Art’, African Arts, 29 (4): 56-61 & 95.