A series of six green copper domes cover the tiny entrance to the National Museum of African Art off the National Mall. Three underground levels radiate off central dueling staircases into hushed galleries of sculptures, wooden masks, paintings, clay and beaded jewelry, maps and textiles from nearly every country on the African continent. Most of the permanent collections are on the first and third sublevels.
Over 9,000 objects comprise the collections and recent ongoing and rotating exhibits have included films by African artists depicting interpretations of time; immersive sound pieces that transport visitors to Balogun, an open-air market in Lagos, Nigeria; and historical art from Sub-Saharan Africa. The second sublevel has workshop space and an auditorium where performing dance troupes, lectures, films and interactive traditional crafting workshops are sometimes held.
Before moving to its current location in 1987, the museum was housed in a townhouse once owned by the former slave-turned statesman, Frederick Douglass. Under the Smithsonian umbrella, it is the largest public collection of African art in the US.