February 2022 - January 2023
In the ethos, beliefs, and spirit of many Africans and those of African descent, cowrie shells speak a symbolic spiritual language about the past, present, and future. Historically, cowrie shells have been used for a multitude of functions. They are one of the oldest, most universal currencies; they feature different styles of cultural decoration and adornment, and they hold sacred significance to many cultures across the globe.
Throughout Africa, they carry cultural clout beyond monetary value, functioning as symbols of prestige, adornment for initiation, and used as tools for divination. Their significance and versatility within multiple contexts on the African continent are observable in their prominence in many forms of African Art.
Although cowry shells are no longer used as a monetary exchange, their symbolic value endures. Featuring so extensively in African art forms, the cowrie has come to represent the African continent itself, a globally recognized symbol associated with a continent rich with history, culture, and curiosities.
Concept of this exhibition was created by SCAD graduate, Tiva Baloi in partial fulfillment of the internship program at the Savannah African Art Museum with direction, guidance, and additional research by Chief Curator Billie Stultz.