Monkey God African ArtFebruary is Black History Month, and places across New Jersey will be marking the observance with events celebrating African and African American culture. One such place is the African Art Museum of the SMA Fathers, in Tenafly, NJ.

The SMA Fathers is an international organization that works in Africa to respect and preserve the culture of the peoples they serve—a unique vision at the time of its founding more than 150 years ago. The African Art Museum is part of that preservation.

The museum will be hosting a “Taste of Africa” event on Sun., Feb. 19, at about 12 pm. Visitors will be able to sample cuisine from countries on the west coast of Africa, including Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Ghana. Museum Director Bob Koenig will be on hand to talk about the foods and their countries of origin, and kids will be able to play musical instruments, try on costumes, and examine sculptures from these countries.

Hands-on Magic

At the “Taste of Africa” on Sun., Feb. 19, museum visitors will sample child-friendly foods like peanut butter soup and fried plantains, and spicy fare for grown-ups. 

You also can visit the museum any day of the week, 8 am-5 pm, and you can count on seeing sub-Saharan paintings, masks, textiles, and sculptures. To get more out of your visit, go on a day when a guide is available to give a tour. While the facility is open daily whether or not it’s staffed, the magic of this museum is that kids are allowed to handle many of the objects that are on display—and even some that aren’t. However, that can only happen with a guide, so call ahead (201-894-8611). If your child has a special interest, like musical instruments, mention that when you call. The museum displays only a fraction of its collection, but guides can bring out items that are not currently on exhibit. 

When I visited with my kids, ages 4 and 7, our guide, Sean Hogan, brought out a box of cire perdue, or “lost wax” figures. They were used in Ghana to measure gold dust, and are made in abstract shapes or to depict various objects, like animals and shoes. Both my kids were fascinated by Hogan’s detailed description of how the figures were made, the intricate designs, and the fact that they were getting to hold pieces of art that were hundreds of years old.

Open all week; 8 am–5 pm; 201-894-8611

Renée Sagiv Riebling is a freelance writer from New Jersey. She and her husband and two children are always on the lookout for new adventures.

What will your family do to celebrate Black History Month in NJ?