The colorful splendor of Ghanaian textiles will fill the third-floor
galleries at the Carlos Museum during Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian
Kente and African American Identity, on view Feb. 23June
This celebrated, nationally touring exhibition examines and honors
Ghanaian kente cloth as a worldwide expression of African and African
American identity. Wrapped in Pride explores the roots
of kente in the Asante and Ewe cultures of Ghana, its widespread
use in Africa, and the many ways kente has been adopted in the United
States, beginning in the 1950s and continuing to the present.
Originally organized by the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History
and the Newark Museum, the exhibition has been touring for three
years. It brings together dozens of examples of traditional and
modern kente cloth, including masterpieces from the permanent collections
of the Newark and Fowler museums, the Smithsonian Institution and
leading private collections.
Johnnetta Cole, retired Presidential Distinguished Professor of
Anthropology, Womens Studies and African American Studies,
is associate curator for the exhibition in Atlanta. Of all
the artifacts and cultural expressions that come from the African
continent, Cole said, nothing symbolizes for African
Americans a connection to our ancestral home like kente cloth. My
decision to become involved with this exhibit flows not only from
a deep personal affinity with kente cloth, but an interest in seeing
its beauty and vibrancy shared far beyond black communities.
Kente is a hand-woven, narrow strip clothoften containing
bright, primary colors with patterned motifs at regular intervalsthat
long has been a part of the ritual and culture of Ghanaian society.
Today, kente is prominent in contemporary African American society
as well, often embraced as a symbol of black identity.
A range of patterns is displayed and examined, with examples of
kente cloth supplemented by a rich selection of field, historical
and documentary photographs and objects that contextualize the cloth
in Ghanaian life and relate its fascinating history.
The first half of the exhibition introduces Ghanaian kente with
cloths and photographs that demonstrate its striking beauty, and
with oral traditions and proverbs that convey its personal, social
and political importance. The second half of the exhibition traces
the history and uses of kente in the United States, beginning with
Ghanas independence in 1957, an event of national significance
for African American communities.
A new section focusing on the diverse meanings and uses of kente
in Atlanta will be featured during the exhibitions run at
the Carlos. Kente in Atlanta is based on a yearlong
community research project coordinated by site curator Corinne Kratz,
working with students from Emory and other Atlanta universities
and with Cole.
With a wealth of photographs, this section shows the pervasive
use of kente cloth and kente designs in Atlantafrom Kwanzaa
and African American Heritage Month to graduations, weddings and
church services to fashion and home decor. It features residents
who wear, use or work with kente. Atlantans diverse ideas
about kentes meanings, importance and history challenge visitors
to reflect on the meaning of kente in African American life and
on the longevity of the phenomenon.
A website is devoted to Kente Memories at http://carlos.emory.edu/KENTE.
Visitors to the site can read the kente stories of prominent Atlantans
and are encouraged to share their own. Wrapped in Pride
also is accompanied by a 248-page illustrated catalogue ($39, softcover).
The publication features essays by a number of leading scholars
addressing the development and meaning of kente and issues of dress
and identity, as well as numerous color images of works in the exhibition.
The catalogue will be available in the museum bookshop.