I recently took in the Origins of the Afro Comb exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge in England. This exhibition truly surpassed my wildest expectations.
It runs from July to October, and I will be returning soon, so that I can study some of the combs more in-depth. This exhibition is one of those things you have to experience more than once, because there is something new to learn and see each time.
Here are a few reasons you should take in this exhibition:
It's truly ground-breaking.
More than three hundred amazing combs from all over the continent of Africa are being exhibited in one place for the very first time. Some of the earliest are from ancient Egypt, dating back 6,000 years. And there are also some beautifully silver-plated ones on display which were recently made to depict the journey of the Maroons of the Caribbean.
It opens our eyes.
Ivory comb. 16th Century, Benin, Nigeria.
This exhibition reveals so much about African art and culture, pre-slavery. We are usually told that Africa did have civilizations prior to the arrival of Europeans, but to actually see up-close real examples, and the artistry and skill that would have been an every day occurrence back then is fascinating.
There are many surprises.
If you have ever thought that combs are just simple objects for grooming the hair, then you need to see ones like these, created by a 20th century artist from Edo, Nigeria. The exhibition contains different African combs of many shapes, sizes and materials. All created for different reasons - some were small-scale sculpture, others were decorative, others still were for gifts or love tokens, and others were created to denote certain status.
You can get involved.
There's a special digital interactive section where you can record your own hair journey, and also listen to the hair stories of others with African hair type.
There's more to explore.
If you're unable to attend the exhibition, or if you simply want to continue the remarkable journey of the Afro comb on your own, you can also purchase the beautifully illustrated Secrets of the Afro Comb: 6,000 years of art & culture, which was written by K.N.Chimbiri as a companion piece to the exhibition. Like the exhibition, Secrets of the Afro Comb is unique in that it's the first book on African combs written for children. But it's definitely not just a book about hair combs or natural hairstyles; the information in this book and the way it is presented is just as mind-opening for adults as well in my opinion. It covers subjects such as hair biology, world art, the middle passage, the history of Islam and Christianity; it also contains some rare, previously unpublished photographs. It's available on amazon.co.uk (pre-order until July 20th), or through the Book Depository, which offers free shipping worldwide, and also at the gift shop of the Fitzwilliam Museum.