The Akan peoples, one of the largest ethnic groups in Ghana and Ivory Coast, are culturally similar and speak closely related languages. They have always associated gold with wealth, power, and prestige. Rich local mines continue to provide this precious metal in an area of West Africa with a long history of gold production and known to to Europeans as the “Gold Coast.” The Akan formed many states and their kings and elite literally envelop themselves in gold from crowns to jewelry to dress—gold is also the predominant color of large, locally woven kente cloths, reserved for leaders. The most famous Akan state is the ancient Asante kingdom, which flourishes to this day under the leadership of the current Asantehene, His Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.

Because Akan cultures convey ancestral wisdom verbally, the motifs in their works often allude to proverbs, as for example the backward-looking sankofa bird. Adornment has a myriad of forms, ranging from animals to designs inspired by Victorian jewelry and western objects, such as watches and crowns. Cloth motifs include swords, animals, and abstract designs.

This dazzling exhibition comes to the Museum from the Glassell Collection of African gold at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The kente cloths on view from the Akan realm are recent MFA acquisitions.

This exhibition has been organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.