News Releases

National Museum of African Art Collaborates With Google Cultural Institute To Explore Fashion

Google Collaboration Includes Over 180 World-Renowned Cultural Institutions

June 23, 2017

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art joins more than 180 museums, cultural centers and fashion houses around the world to bring 3,000 years of the world’s fashion together in the largest-ever virtual exhibition of style. The “We Wear Culture” project, launched June 8, is organized and hosted by Google Arts & Culture and uses state-of-the-art technology to allow visitors to explore everything from the ancient Silk Road and courtly fashions of Versailles to British punk and the stories behind the clothes people wear today. The National Museum of African Art is telling immersive stories based on artifacts from its Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa Project that will reach new audiences through this global collaboration at The museum is one of the few institutions representing African fashion and culture in the project.

Fashion experts, curators and designers as well as universities, museums and NGOs from around the world have collaborated on the Google Arts & Culture project to show that fashion is a part of culture, a form of art and a result of true craftsmanship. Google’s technology, including virtual reality, 360-degree videos, Google Street View and ultra-high resolution “gigapixel” images, were used to preserve the collections and make them available to everyone.

“It’s been exciting for the museum to work with the Google Cultural Institute and explore new ways to share our digital collections with a wider audience,” said Christine Mullen Kreamer, acting director of the National Museum of African Art. “The extra attention generated by this collaboration can only help as we strive to engage global audiences, especially those in Africa, and share our collections with those who may not otherwise be able to visit the museum.”

“We invite everyone to browse the exhibition on their phones or laptops and learn about the stories behind what you wear,” said Amit Sood, director of Google Arts & Culture. “You might be surprised to find out that your jeans or the black dress in your wardrobe have a centuries-old story. What you wear is true culture and more often than not a piece of art.”

The National Museum of African Art’s contributions to this project are found at and include:

  • Garment and Adornment: Expressions of Spirit and Belief in Oman, Somalia and Zanzibar, which presents videos of an original ballet and opera produce by the museum and is focused on the intertwined cultures of Oman and Zanzibar. These lands separated by thousands of miles have been connected for thousands of years by seafaring traders who still ply the waters of the Indian Ocean, riding the monsoon winds in graceful dhows. 
  • Fashioning Change: Zanzibari Fashion Through the Photographer’s Eye. This exhibition explores the challenges of staging a modern, vibrant ballet using traditional, everyday garments as it travels back to vibrant Zanzibar in the late1800s and discovers how dynamic changes in local and regional cultures were captured by some of the earliest portrait photographers along the Swahili coast. It shows how formerly enslaved people expressed their freedom of choice through fashion, and how the nascent Sultanate of Zanzibar presented a melting pot of styles from the Arabian Peninsula to the peoples of the interior of eastern Africa.
  • Lionogo, a graphic novel based on a Swahili mythological figure from East Africa that was inspired by the cultural connections between the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Ocean. It offers an interactive and educational experience to teens and youths: It incorporates a map of specific locations in the novel, a glossary to introduce readers to a new vocabulary and enables readers to include their own story plots.

Throughout June and July, the public can follow the project on Twitter (, Instagram ( and Facebook (, where the museum will offer live webcasts and 360-degree video presentations of its fashion collections. #WeWearCulture

All of the exhibits contributed by the collaborators to the “We Wear Culture” exhibition are available online at and through the Google Arts & Culture app on iOS and Android.

“We Wear Culture” online project highlights include:

  • More than 180 leading cultural and fashion institutions from 42 countries
  • More than 400 online exhibitions and stories sharing a total of 30,000 photos, videos and other documents
  • Four virtual-reality experiences of iconic fashion pieces
  • More than 700 ultra-high-resolution “gigapixel” images
  • More than 40 venues offer backstage access on Google Street View

About Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa

In November 2013, the museum announced that the Sultanate of Oman would give $1.8 million to support a series of programs celebrating Omani and East African arts and culture. This is the largest donation to the museum to date. This partnership has been made possible by the Sultan of Qaboos Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. This year, the museum launched a multiyear series of programming, Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa, which highlights the cross-cultural connections of East and North Africa with those found in the Middle East. It will showcase the evolution of Omani arts and cultures, the beauty of the arts in Oman and its connections to the East African Coast. For more information about Connecting the Gems, visit here.

About the National Museum of African Art

The National Museum of African Art is the nation’s premier museum dedicated exclusively to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of Africa’s diverse arts. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. The museum is located at 950 Independence Ave. S.W., near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. For more information, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the National Museum of African Art’s website. For general Smithsonian information, call (202) 633-1000.   

About Google Arts & Culture

Google Arts & Culture puts more than a thousand museums at the user’s fingertips. It is a new, immersive way to explore art, history and the wonders of the world. Following projects that made street art, performing arts and natural history accessible to people all over the world, We Wear Culture allows everyone to explore the world of fashion. The Google Arts & Culture app is free and available on the web, IOS and Android. Its team is an innovation partner for cultural institutions and works on technologies that help preserve and share culture and allow curators to create engaging exhibitions online and offline, inside museums.

# # #



Media only
Eddie Burke 
(202) 633-4660   

composite image of African women