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The Africa Center does not have any exhibitions currently on view while construction takes place at our new home at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street in Manhattan.

As the Museum for African Art, we organized nearly 70 exhibitions that traveled to over 143 venues in 17 countries, bringing the art and cultures of Africa to a wide array of audiences worldwide. Museum for African Art exhibitions are widely recognized for pioneering the way African art is seen and understood, presenting insightful perspectives on the rich diversity of African art and cultures.

Desert Jewels: North African Jewelry and Photography from the Xavier Guerrand-Hermes Collection

1.  Necklace with central pendant, Tagguemout

The North African collection of jewelry and photography assembled by Xavier Guerrand-Hermes over several decades provides insight into the region's changing societies. The wide range of jewelry illustrates the diversity and enduring beauty of North Africa's artistic traditions, while the compelling images show daily life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the elaborate jewelry worn by North African women, a profusion of pendants, colored enamels, and precious or semi-precious stones transforms the pieces into flamboyant and conspicuous works of art. Women receive jewelry from their husbands when they marry, and they wear them as symbolic expressions of social codes and identity. In certain shapes and materials, jewelry is seen as a way to protect the wearer. The hand, or khamsa, is considered a potent shield against the evil eye.

Beginning in the 1860s European photographers set up studios in the major cities of North Africa, photographing women wearing their extraordinary jewels, as well as recording markets, ancient archaeological sites, and landscapes. The images were mounted on cabinet cards into the 1890s, when the format was replaced by picture postcards. Studios also sold larger prints of photographs which were acquired by European tourists, artists, and collectors. Works from some of the most famous photographers of the time, including Etienne and Louis Neurdein, J. Pascal Sebah, A. Cavilla, J. Garrigues, and George Washington Wilson, are part of this collection.

A full color catalogue with essays by Cynthia Becker, assistant professor at Boston University, and Kristyne Loughran, an independent scholar, accompanies the exhibition.

Desert Jewels: North African Jewelry and Photography from the Xavier Guerrand-Herm
es Collection
is supported, in part, by the Robert Lehman Foundation.

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