Silvia Forni

Silvia Forni

Curator (African Cultures)

Area: World Cultures, World Art & Culture

Exhibitions & Galleries: Shreyas and Mina Ajmera Gallery of Africa, the Americas and the Asia Pacific

Phone: 416 586 5752


B.A. (Laurea), Philosophy, University of Turin, Italy, 1993
M.A., Cultural Anthropology, Indiana University, IN., 1996
Ph.D., Cultural Anthropology, University of Turin, Italy, 2002

Dr. Silvia Forni is Curator of Anthropology in the ROM’s Department of World Cultures. She is the curator of the African collection, and responsible for the permanent and rotating display of African artworks in the Shreyas and Mina Ajmera Gallery of Africa, the Americas and the Asia Pacific. She is also Assistant Professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto where she teaches Anthropology of Material Culture, Ethnography of Africa and Anthropology of Art.

Since joining the ROM in 2008 she has curated the partial gallery reinstallations Proverbial coffins from Ghana (2011); Community Spectacles: Puppets, Masks, and Musical Instruments from the Amrad Collection of African Art (2011) and For People, Spirits, and Gods: Yoruba Ritual Art from the Jack and Iris Lieber Collection (2011). She has also worked on a number of exhibition projects focusing on African and African Canadian themes including Carnival: From Emancipation to Celebration (2011); El Anatsui. When I last wrote to you about Africa (2010); Position as desired – Exploring African Canadian Identity: Photographs from the Wedge Collection (2010); Stitching communities. African Canadian quilts from Southern Ontario (2009).

Her research focuses on the significance of art objects and material culture as part of a network of exchanges that define regional cultural identities in sub-Saharan Africa as well as the way Africa has been constructed in the Western imagination. Her interests have brought her to the Ndop Plain (North West Province - Cameroon) to explore pottery production and supported her participation in cooperative projects and research in various African countries including Kenya, Zimbabwe, Senegal and Ghana. Currently her main research focus is on the circulation and interpretation – both in scholarship and museum displays - of 20th century African art. In her latest fieldwork in Cameroon, Dr. Forni has been researching the production and marketing of “traditional” African artworks produced since the second half of the 20th century and focusing on the important role of African dealers in the international trade of African art and their contributions to the shaping of collections and knowledge.


Recent Publications


with Christopher Steiner eds. Africa in the Market. 20th Century art from the Amrad African Art Collection. Toronto: ROM Press.  In preparation

Il ventre e la pentola. Ceramiche, genere e società nei Grassfields del Camerun. (The Womb And The Pot: Ceramics, Gender and Society in the Grassfields of Cameroon) Torino. Il Segnalibro. 2007.

 (ed, with Cecilia Pennacini and Chiara Pussetti), Antropologia, genere, riproduzione. La costruzione culturale della femminilità (Anthropology, gender, reproduction: The social construction of femininity), Rome: Carocci. 2006. 

Articles and book chapters

“Visual Diplomacy: Art circulation and Iconoclashes in the Kingdom of Bamum.” In  Basu, Paul ed. The Inbetweenness of Things. London. Submitted for publication       

 “Narrating the Artist: Seyni Camara and the Multiple Constructions of the Artistic Persona.” In Joanna Grabski and Carol Magee eds. African Art, Interviews, Narratives: Bodies of Knowledge at Work. Indiana University Press. 2013. Pp 70-85.        

“Riposizionamenti materiali. Power dressing in un regno del Camerun”.(Material shifts. Power dressing in Cameroonian Kingdom). In Maria Giovanna Parodi (ed) Power Dressing. Libreria Universitaria. 2013

 “Masters, trend-makers and producers. The village of Nsei as a multisited pottery workshop”. In Förster Till and Sidney Kasfir eds. Rethinking the Workshop. Work and Agency in African Art. Indiana University Press, 2012 . Pp 91-110.          

 “Ambiguous values and incommensurable claims. The canon, the market and entangled histories of collections and exhibits,” Critical Interventions 7, 2011, pp. 150-159.

“Oggetti” (Objects) in Cecilia Pennacini (ed.) La ricerca sul Campo in antropologia. Oggetti e metodi. (Field research in anthropology. Objects and methods) Roma. Carocci, 2010. pp 93-124.

 “Containers of life: Pottery and Social Relations in the Grassfields (Cameroon)”. African Arts 40(1) 2007: 42-53.

 “Dal tesoro al museo. Percorsi e strategie di musealizzazione in Camerun Occidentale” (From Treasures to Museums. Itineraries and strategies of museumification in Western Cameroon). Africa e Mediterraneo 2-3/07 (60-61)2007:43-49.

“La prova del fuoco. Tecniche e significati di una tradizione ceramica contemporanea (Babessi, Camerun)” (Test of fire: Techniques and meanings of a contemporary pottery tradition). In M.L. Ciminelli (ed) Immagini in opera. Nuove vie in antropologia dell’arte. Rome, Liguori. 2007 pp. 73-98. 

“Performance, politica e genere in alcune società femminili africane.” (Performance, politics and gender in some African female associations), Molimo 3, Università degli Studi di Milano. 2007. Pp.  119-140.

 “Modellare la differenza. Tecnologia ceramica e genere a Nsei (Camerun)” (Molding difference: Technology, ceramic and gender in Nsei), Molimo 2, Università degli Studi di Milano. 2007. Pp. 57-66.

“Mogli ribelli, corpi contesi. Rituali funebri e sepolture in un villaggio della piana di Ndop (Camerun nordoccidentale)” (Rebellious wives, contested bodies: Funeral ritual and burials in a village of the Ndop Plain) in F. Remotti (ed) Morte e trasformazione dei corpi. Interventi di Tanatometamorfosi, Milano: Bruno Mondadori. 2006. pp. 285-295.

Book /exhibition  reviews

Exhibition review “Magic Squares: the patterned Imagination of Muslim Africa in Contemporary Culture” African Arts 45 (4)2012: 88-89

Review of Warnier, Jean-Pierre. The pot king. The body and technologies of power. Leiden and Boston: Brill. Social Anthropology. 17 (3) 2009: 370-71.

Popular articles

“Showing the Proverbial Colours.” ROM magazine. Spring 2013  , pp. 10-11

“Quill Power” ROM. Winter 2012. pp. 26-29

“Earth’s Magician.” ROM . Spring 2011. pp. 22-26

 “Reflecting on Africa – interview by Francisco Avarez”. ROM . Fall 2010. pp. 22-23

 “The Sweet Hereafter. Ghana”. ROM.  Fall 2010, p. 21

“Foreword” in Positioned as Desired. Exploring African Canadian Identity: Photographs from the Wedge Collection. Toronto. Wedge. 2010. p.15

“Carved wooden Ikem headdress”. ROM. Winter 2008. p. 22

Research Projects

Of Africa stems from an original idea of independent curators Julie Crooks and Dominique Fontaine. Since 2013, Crooks and Fontaine have been working with ROM curator Silvia Forni to develop a platform that would enable a more open and dynamic presentation of the diversity and creativity of the African continent. With Of Africa, the curators will present and promote historical and contemporary cultural and artistic production in Africa and its Diasporas to highlight issues that impact the present and evoke the potential of an infinite future.


Authored by: Silvia Forni