The traditional dress of kings in Ghana, kente cloth has become for African Americans a symbol of pride in their heritage and culture. Kente is worn in the United States as a part of church celebrations and school graduation ceremonies, for Juneteenth, Kwanzaa and other holidays, and as a means of connecting African Americans to their African origins.
More than 500 examples of this colorful textile will be on display in the exhibition Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity, from Oct. 13, 2001 through Jan. 13, 2002, at the Oakland Museum of California. The exhibition also includes a rich selection of historical and documentary photographs that illustrate both the traditional and popular uses of kente cloth.
Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity was organized by the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History and The Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey. The exhibition presents a multifaceted look at kente, the colorful strip-woven and pieced cloth of the Asante and Ewe people of Ghana, and one of the world's great textile traditions. Co-curators Doran H. Ross, recently retired as executive director of the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, and Anne Spencer, formerly of The Newark Museum, bring unique and special knowledge to the project gained through field research and collecting in Ghana.
According to Spencer, Wrapped in Pride breaks new ground by going beyond the examination of kente's place in Ghana to a study of how kente has been adopted in other parts of Africa and the African Diaspora, its spread to the United States and, finally, its incorporation into contemporary American life.
The exhibition and its national tour are made possible by Ford Motor Company.
Ford has supported the arts and education in the Bay Area for many years and is deeply committed to this community's quality of life, said Bill Stewart, regional manager of the San Francisco Parts Distribution Center, Ford Motor Company. We applaud the Oakland Museum of California for bringing Wrapped in Pride to our community. All of us at Ford hope the city will be inspired by the rich African tradition of kente and the vital role it continues to play in contemporary culture.
Kente is one of the world's best-known and most widely revered textiles. It is produced in greater quantity, exported to more places and incorporated into a greater variety of forms than any other African fabric. Kente is a hand-woven, narrow strip cloth -- often in bright, primary colors with richly patterned motifs at regular intervals. Long strips are pieced together to create the large toga-sized textile that has long been a part of traditional Ghanaian society and ritual culture.
Over time, for African Americans as well as for Americans of other cultures, kente has developed multiple meanings beyond its original uses in Ghanaian society. Today kente is prominent in African American society, often embraced as a symbol of black identity. Its inspiration can be found in visual art forms as diverse as greeting cards, book covers, clothing and household accessories.
Reverend Cecil L. Murray of First A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles was asked about the meaning of kente to African Americans. Kente reminds us that the world is larger than where you are, he said. The world is larger than what you have suffered, what you have experienced. The world is large enough to step across the Atlantic, the Pacific, and to join people as people. So the significance to me is that it's a bridge joining worlds together. Kente cloth means dignity, freedom, liberation, joining hands, love. (from the exhibition catalog)
Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, who wore kente during a historic visit to Washington, D.C. in 1958, helped to establish the cloth as a potent symbolic image for Africans and African Americans. Kente's popularity in the United States was furthered by the Black Nationalist movements of the 1960s with their emphasis on color symbolism and attendant slogans Black Power, Black Pride, and Black is Beautiful. Since then, kente and references to it have been incorporated into a wide array of African American celebrations, including Kwanzaa, Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month, Juneteenth, and others, as a fundamental symbol of a proud African American community.
The Ghanaian population in the Bay Area exceeds 10,000 people, in addition to a number of Africans from other countries in the Northern California region and throughout the state. Ghanaian and other African and African American scholars, presenters, musicians and designers will take part in the programs and activities organized around the exhibition.
Man's Kente Cloth (detail), Ghana
The Newark Museum