african dress and adornment

Splendour and Shine III

Jewellery and dress are not static. They change over time, sometimes only marginally, sometimes profoundly. Some are ‘frozen’ in a particular form, and some continue to inspire new forms. These changes during a lifetime and exchanges between cultures have been the central theme of the exhibition series Splendour and Shine. The focus of each exhibition shifts slightly, and the third in the series is Traditional Jewellery in Africa. It accompanies the exhibition in the Pfalzmuseum Forcheim.

As has become her trademark approach, Irene Steiner combines traditional jewellery and dress from the German-speaking world with that of the rest of the world.  Seven chapters explore this theme, ranging from geographical overviews to materials used. After the introductory chapter, first a geographical approach is used. This does not include all of Africa, but focuses on the Maghreb, Egypt, the Tuareg, Fulani and Fulbe tribes and their realm, Senegal, Mauretania, Mali, Ghana, Benin and Ethiopia. I was pleased to see North Africa included in a book on African jewellery, as too often this is not the case. These chapters are largely visual: they show jewellery and in some instances dress, as always modeled by the author’s daughters. The accompanying texts are the descriptions of the many photographs.

The next three chapters zoom in on materials used. Copper, iron and aluminium are followed by natural materials, beads and glass, and textiles. These chapters as well are mainly visual and have brief texts, that nonetheless touch upon complex topics. One of these is the paragraph on collecting (p. 49), where the author states that ‘well-researched private collections should be archived in museums’, as they contain both things themselves and information about them that is otherwise lost. This is a critical point in our current timeframe, as I have pointed out here. I would however expand the statement to not only well-researched private collections, but private collections in general. There is an incredible amount of history and heritage currently present in private homes that may disappear altogether, because museums are hesitant to accept privately built collections.

The final chapter introduces dress and adornment from Franconia. It illustrates how dress and adornment are so closely interconnected that when one element ceased to be used, the entire set of personal appearance changed and eventually disappeared.

This publication is (as I said above) mainly a visual reference. Like in the other two publications, the photographs are abundant and therefore often small, but they will bring you a good idea of the wide variety in dress and adornment. The volume is too short to explore the important issues it mentions (like the example above) in depth, so the bibliography is an important starting point for anyone wanting to read more on a certain chapter. It offers an extensive list of publications per chapter: a bibliography like this is an accomplishment and relevant contribution to the research field in itself. This third publication in the series Splendour and Shine offers a visual introduction in the wide and varied world of adornment from Africa.

Splendor and Shine III. Traditional Jewellery in Africa, by Irene Steiner.

90 pages, full-colour, bilingual German/English. Available with the author.

The book was gifted by the author.