African Artistry at the Currency Museum
The Currency Museum is located in the Bank of Canada building
245 Sparks Street
It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. (open Mondays from 1 May to Labour Day).
Admission is free.
For more information:
Tel: (613) 782-7933
Fax: (613) 782-7761
“The Artistry of African Currency,” a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution, at the Currency Museum, and will remain on view through 26 September 2004. Shells, beads, metal, jewelry , cloth, weapons, tools, and even salt have been used as currency on the African continent. This exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art explores the cultural beliefs underlying African monetary systems and follows the transformation of plain currencies into objects of beauty.
The Currency Museum will present this originally unilingual exhibition in a bilingual format (English / French) and will be adding African artifacts from its own National Currency Collection such as textile currency, wearable currency, and blade currency.
Join us in celebrating this unique cultural experience.
found at: http://www.currencymuseum.ca/eng/about/press_africanCurrency.php
The shared cultural beliefs and the varied forms of currency that supported the monetary systems of African societies are explored in the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition “The Artistry of African Currency.” This exhibition opens at the Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada on 11 June and will remain on display until the end of September 2004. The Currency Museum is taking this opportunity to showcase some African artifacts from Canada’s National Currency Collection, and has redesigned the panels to be bilingual in French and English. The exhibition was originally developed by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and is circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).
Throughout Africa’s past, many objects served as currency - including salt, shells, beads, metal, indigenous coins, European coins, jewelry, woven cloth, weapons and tools. Although the operation of the monetary system did not require the currency to be a work of art, all but the most ordinary currency was designed, formed and decorated. This exhibition is a celebration of the art of these varied currencies.
“The Artistry of African Currency” explores the circumstances that supported the past monetary systems of African societies and led to the transformation of plain currencies into objects of beauty. To provide a context for these currencies, the exhibition includes a series of colourfulpanels that combine text, photographs and real objects commonly used as mediums of exchange. The metal currencies – a major focus of the exhibition – range from conventional forms to highly valued complex designs executed with skill and artistic sensibility. The exhibition displays handcrafted copper and iron implements, bracelets and anklets.
One such example of metal currency is the open bracelet called a manilla. Cast from copper and then brass and later still from iron, manillas circulated widely from the late 15th to the early 20th centuries along the West African equatorial coast. The larger the size of the manilla, the greater its worth. Small manillas would often be amassed and then taken to the blacksmith to be melted and re-formed into a larger size. Some were decorated with incised designs or a second coil of metal was twisted around the shank.
As a leading center for the visual arts of Africa, the National Museum of African Art fosters and sustains – through exhibitions, collections, research and public programs—an interest in and an understanding of the diverse cultures of Africa as they are embodied in aesthetic achievements in the visual arts.
Each year, SITES shares the wealth of the Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside of Washington, D.C. One of the Smithsonian’s four National Programs, SITES makes available a wide range of exhibitions about art, science, and history, which are shown not only in museum but wherever people live, work, and play: in libraries, science centers, historical societies, community centers, botanical gardens, schools, and shopping malls. In 2002, SITES celebrated 50 years of connecting Americans to their shared cultural heritage.
The Currency Museum, which is part of the Bank of Canada, is the repository of Canada’s National Currency Collection, which consists of over 100,000 items. The Collection includes ancient and medieval coins, as well as modern coins, tokens, paper money, historical financial documents, and tools and materials (dies, plates) for the production of Canadian coins and notes. There are more than 8,000 objects from the National Currency Collection on display in the permanent galleries as well as this special exhibition, which features objects selected from the collection’s vaults.
The Artistry of African Currency
From the Smithsonian
Cast in copper, gold, or silver, jewelry often served as reservoirs of wealth that were easy to store and transport rather than as currency for routine daily transactions. One example is this copper alloy bracelet made by Igbo peoples in Nigeria.
Shells, beads, metal, jewelry, cloth, weapons, tools, and even salt have been used as currency on the African continent. A new exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art explores the cultural beliefs underlying African monetary systems and follows the transformation of plain currencies into objects of beauty.
Throughout Africa's history, when few extensive nation-states existed, commerce among various societies depended on commonly held values that spanned great geographical distances and a broad diversity of activities. Societies assigned worth to objects that were relevant to their own circumstances: objects that were rare enough to be valued yet plentiful enough to be widely traded. Daily monetary transactions used cowrie shells, aggrey (glass) beads, woven cloth strips, and raffia mats.
Monetary exchanges were often part of significant life events, such as marriage and birth, and involved items of high intrinsic, symbolic, and artistic value. The iron bridewealth blades of the Lokele and Turumbu peoples and the blade currency of the Ngbaka are examples of such prized objects.
This 19th-century iron currency blade was used by the Lokele and Turumbu peoples of Lomani and Lualaba Rivers, Democratic Republic of the Congo.Images courtesy National Museum of African Art, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John B. Henry II
Imported from the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean, cowrie shells were an ancient money used in Africa and throughout the world.
Art, craftsmanship, and skill often influenced the acceptance of an object as currency. Blacksmiths and goldsmiths devoted their virtuosity to the creation of graceful and striking articles to be used for trade. The very ancient Aksumite coins of Ethiopia were made by die cutters of exceptional talent. Fulani earrings were formed from thin, beaten sheets of gold that were sometimes inscribed with flowers or animals.
In Africa, all but the most ordinary currency was designed, formed, and decorated, in ways that surpassed the requirements of necessity and utility. The Artistry of African Currency examines this fascinating subject with twelve elegantly designed and illustrated panels, two of which incorporate objects used as mediums of exchange. These include cowrie shells, beads, a manilla (an open bracelet, cast from copper alloy, that circulated along the West African equatorial coast from the late 15th to the early 20th century), an x-shaped copper ingot, and a kissi penny (a type of long, thick iron wire that was traded throughout Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone until the 1970s).
For questions about content, please contact S. Marquette Folley, +001-202.633.3111
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