My Day At the Met: Exploring 100 Years of West African Beauty

Unknown Artist (Senegal). Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1910. Gelatin silver print from glass negative, 1975; 6 x 4 in. (16.5 x 11.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Susan Mullin Vogel, 2015

Unknown Artist (Senegal). Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1910. Gelatin silver print from glass negative, 1975; 6 x 4 in. (16.5 x 11.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Susan Mullin Vogel, 2015

If you live in New York City you know that one of the most appealing aspects of living here is all of the amazing museums scattered like gems throughout Manhattan and even the five neighboring boroughs. I myself, like many other New Yorkers, have a personal favorite museum and that is The Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka the Met). The exhibits are always changing which means coming to visit every few months brings a fresh batch of inspiration. 

Upon my last visit I came across a brand new exhibit, one that left me feeling motivated and excited. Titled "In and Out of the Studio" this exhibit presents one hundred years of portrait photography from West Africa. The pictures range from the years 1870-1970 and really give an amazing insight into life throughout this time period. Even though it is common in the West African culture to not smile in many of the photographs you can still see so much emotion in the images. From pain, to excitement, to pure joy, all of these emotions can be found throughout the collection.

However, what really peaked my interests was the constant thread of traditional clothing and beading that is present in a lot of the portraits. Adorning ones clothes and body with intricate beadwork has been present for centuries in African history. Yet what is most interesting is what these beads can represent. For example, in many African villages along the eastern cape one would be able to identify who the village "healer" is by the beadwork that a person wears. According to mdantsaneway.com, "Novice healers wear single white strings of white beads around their heads, wrists, elbows and ankles, while experienced older healers have the right and privilege to wear much more opulent and elaborate bead work."

The rituals and traditions of Africa have been established for many centuries. What I love so much about the exhibit at the Met is that even though its focus is on just one small part of African history the beadwork and significance of what these beads represent is still demonstrated. It’s an important reflection on how a societies customs and traditions are passed on for centuries. 

The exhibit runs from August 31, 2015 - January 3, 2016. If you are around the city and have to time it's definitely worth a visit. 

MUAH,
Colleen