Dress for Success

BY Alice Cisternino | December 25, 2018 | Feature Features

The National Museum of African Art takes a gilt trip with its latest exhibit.
Fabrice Monteiro, “Signare #1” (2011, exhibition print)

A fascinating—and sparkling—show, Good as Gold: Fashioning Senegalese Women, on view at the National Museum of African Art through Sept. 29, underscores style’s dynamism. The exhibition focuses on gold jewelry from Senegal and explores how personal taste, familial memory and the collective concerns of women are fundamental to constructing individual identity. Furthermore, it situates such choices within a larger cultural context ripe with history and symbolism.

The exhibition is drawn primarily from a 2012 gift to the museum from art historian Marian Ashby Johnson of more than 250 pieces of West African jewelry. This collection is supplemented by photographs, national loans and contemporary fashion by designer Oumou Sy.

Syncretism is a salient theme: Vast trade networks influenced artistic production. Blacksmithing in the region dates to the first millennium BCE. Senegal’s “River of Gold” attracted merchants, and West Africa became a hub among Europe, the Middle East, India and much of the African continent from the 15th century onward. And a goldsmithing vocabulary disseminated through small objects like accessories.

The necklace with a heart-shaped pendant (tchor), for example, combines a French-inspired heart with Senegalese filigree. The “Basket of Flowers” necklace may call to mind a European custom; but, here, its execution is purely Senegalese. Exchange sparks adaptation and innovation: The resulting jewelry is part of an evolving story. Tickets free, 950 Independence Ave. SW, africa.si.edu

Photography Courtesy Of: