Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity

The Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History, in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), proudly presents Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity, from April 12 – August 11, 2011.  This beautiful exhibition explores the art of making kente cloth, its symbolism in the cultures of Africa, and its expression of identity in African American communities.

The brightly colored, geometrically patterned cloth called kente, made by the Asante (uh SAHN tee) peoples of Ghana and the Ewe (AY vay) peoples of Ghana and Togo, is the best known of all African textiles. In African American communities across the United States, kente is much more than mere cloth: it is a symbol of African pride and a powerful cultural icon.  Kente has its origins in the former Gold Coast of West Africa as festive dress for special occasions—traditionally worn by men as a kind of toga and by women as upper and lower wrappers. Over the past forty years, as kente’s popularity has blossomed, the cloth has been used in hats, ties, bags, shoes, jewelry, and many other accessories worn on both sides of the Atlantic.

Visitors to Wrapped in Pride will begin by exploring kente weaving traditions and seeing extraordinary examples of historic and contemporary kente—including some specifically set out for visitors to touch—and numerous objects incorporating its patterns. The exhibition also considers how kente of the Asante and Ewe cultures came to be used throughout Africa as garment and ceremonial cloth.

Photographs and video depicting the use of kente in contexts ranging from religious to commercial tell how this traditional art form was transmitted across an ocean, and how it changed as it was embraced around the world as an expression of African cultural identity and pride, worn by the likes of W. E. B. Du Bois, Muhammad Ali, Spike Lee, and Nelson Mandela, among others.

A final section looks at the prominence of kente during the months of December, January, and February, when the confluence of Christmas, Kwanzaa, Martin Luther King Day, and African American History Month prompts its wearing and/or display in a variety of forms, and in church and/or graduation, when it symbolizes heritage, faith, and accomplishment.

On Tuesday, April 12, the Museum invites the general public to its grand opening event at 6pm; the reception is free and open to everyone!

Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity was made possible in part through Hotel Tax Revenue funded from the City of College Station through the Arts Council of Brazos Valley, through underwriting provided by the William Knox Holt Foundation and by NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities This version of the exhibition was developed by the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, Los Angeles, California, based on an earlier exhibition co-organized with the Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey.