SAVANNAH, GA – January 19, 2022 – The Savannah African Art Museum (SAAM) has announced its new 2022 exhibit, “Culture, Currency and Continuity: The Significance of Cowrie Shells in African Art,” which will be replacing their 2021 hair exhibit, “ROOTS: Hair-Culture-History, Exploring the Hair & Cultures of West & Central Africa.” The new exhibit will officially open to the public on February 2 at the nonprofit museum, 201 East 37th Street, Savannah.
SAAM continually dedicates a room in the museum to rotating exhibits that are in place for a year to display different aspects of African civilization. Before the current 2021 hair exhibit, the room was devoted to African instruments and music. For 2022, SAAM wanted to demonstrate the relevance of cowrie shells as they have been intertwined with African art and culture for centuries.
Although cowrie shells’ origin is the Indian and Pacific Ocean via the trade industry and not indigenous to Africa, they are mostly associated with African culture, and for good reason. The small, glossy shells were more than just fashionable, they had monetary value in Ancient African societies. For centuries, the beige shells were a symbol of wealth and were used as a form of currency due to their sturdy and light-weight character. They are thought to be the first pan-regional currency in West Africa. Apart from their economic value, the shells were also revered for their power to bring prosperity, fertility, healing, and spiritual connection to ancestors. Today, cowrie shells are often used in clothing, jewelry, crafts, and African braided hairstyles and headpieces.
“Every year, we aim to host a new exhibit on something deeply rooted in African culture to broaden the awareness and appreciation for its impact and relevancy to African History. Cowrie shells have come to represent the African continent globally. They have taken root in pop culture, coming a long way since the startled looks and comments received by Venus and Serena Williams when they adorned their braided hair with them as a connection to their African roots during tennis competitions in the early days of their careers,” said SAAM Education Coordinator Lisa Jackson. “We want to share the history behind cowrie shells and why they are important to African societies. They were more than fashion; they were completely intertwined with the culture spiritually, emotionally, and financially. They were an important part of African life. We want to our visitors to walk away with more knowledge about these popular shells than what they walked in with and share it with others.”
The new exhibit coincides with SAAM’s participation in the 2022 Savannah Black Heritage Festival, which runs from February 1-20, 2022. As part of the festivities, SAAM is hosting a workshop that ties into the new exhibit, “Creating Wearable Art” on Feb. 12 from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on the second floor of the museum’s Upbeat Village Terracotta Gallery. Participants will have the opportunity to create wearable art out of cowrie shells and other materials. Please note that the gallery is stair access only, no elevator or wheelchair access available. Also on Feb. 12, museum patrons can have their photographs taken for posting and downloading on the SAAM website. Each photo will have a border placed around it displaying the SAAM and SBHF logos and the date, making them great keepsakes of the SBHF and SAAM Experience.
Savannah news outlet WSAV also plans to air a segment on the launch of SAAM’s new Cowrie Shell exhibit. To learn more about the Savannah Black Heritage Festival and check out the WSAV viewing schedule, please visit https://savannahblackheritagefestival.org/. For more information about the new exhibit, please visit www.savannahafricanartmuseum.org/exhibits. For more information about the workshop, please visit www.savannahafricanart.org/workshops.
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