“Good as Gold: Fashioning Senegalese Women” is now on exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. from Oct. 24 through Sept. 29, 2019, in a redesigned first-floor exhibition gallery. “Good as Gold” is the first major exhibition of Senegalese gold jewelry to date that focuses on the history of Senegal’s gold, from past to present, and the beauty and complexity of the way Senegalese women use ornament and fashion to present themselves.
“Good as Gold” also celebrates the 2012 gift from art historian Marian Ashby Johnson of over 250 works of West African jewelry to the National Museum of African Art. Johnson pursued research for several decades in Senegal, engaging a broad number of jewelers, or teugues, in interviews and extended observation. The Johnson collection is supplemented with nearly 2,000 field and archival photographs providing a singular opportunity to understand the range and complexity of gold in the West African nation. The exhibition is complemented with a selection of loans of photographs and related jewelry items from private lenders and public institutions in the U.S. and overseas.
“While most of the objects in the exhibition were made by men, the designs, styles, and names of such works are by women,” said Amanda Maples, guest curator of the exhibition and lead author of Good as Gold: Fashioning Senegalese Women. “‘Good as Gold’ reveals the ways in which Senegalese women have historically used jewelry as a means of fashioning a cosmopolitan identity of power and prestige.”
A key theme of the exhibition is the Senegalese concept of sañse (Wolof for “dressing up” or looking and feeling good). “Good as Gold” explores how a woman in a city like Dakar might use a piece of gold jewelry to build a carefully tailored, elegant fashion ensemble. The exhibition also looks at the interconnectedness of local and global expressions and understanding of fashion.
The National Museum of African Art commissioned Oumou Sy—Senegal’s “Queen of Couture” and its most celebrated fashion designer—to create a new haute couture ensemble inspired by the strength and savoir-faire of Senegalese women for the museum’s collection, which has been unveiled in the exhibition. Sy’s work has been sold in boutiques in New York, Paris, Geneva, and Dakar, and featured in significant West African films and music videos. Among her many international accolades, Sy is a recipient of the Prince Claus Award.
“Good as Gold” is the first in a season of exhibitions and programs at the National Museum of African Art celebrating African women’s artistic prowess. It will be joined in the spring by “I Am: Contemporary African Women Artists,” a major presentation of contemporary works in the museum’s collection by women artists.
The exhibition is overseen by Kevin D. Dumouchelle, curator at the National Museum of African Art. – GM
Images courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.
Article by Eddie Burke