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Adinkra Ceremonial Wrapper (Ghana)

This is a Adinkra ceremonial wrapper. It is dated mid-20th century and we acquired it in 1962. Its medium is cotton and its technique is factory-woven plain weave, dyed, printed with carved stamps (adinkra). It is a part of the Textiles department.

The adinkra symbol-language of the Akan is a potent example of a graphic system used to communicate and reinforce commonly held ideals among community members. Hundreds of unique symbols have been identified, but their rich historic and metaphoric meanings are not easily decoded. Some represent physical objects—such as the king’s stool—but most are culturally specific visual cues related to proverbs. Some of the proverbs evoked by this cloth include: “There is nothing wrong with learning from hindsight,” and “No one lives who saw the beginning of the world, and none will see its end, except God.”[1]
Adinkra is traditionally worn for funerals, and the selection of symbols and their placement on the gridded cloth are understood as a form of communication between the living and their ancestors. Stamps carved from pieces of dried calabash gourd are used to print the designs with a thick, tar-like ink on the dyed cloth. Here, the black-on-black pattern is only visible due to the gloss of the ink.

[1] English translations of proverbs expressed in adinkra are often quite varied. The interpretations cited here are taken from Kojo Arthur, Cloth as Metaphor: (Re)Reading the Adinkra Cloth Symbols of the Akan of Ghana (Legon, Ghana: Center for Indigenous Knowledge Systems, 2001).

This object was featured in our Object of the Week series in a post titled Symbol and Meaning.

This object was bequest of Mary Kirby. It is credited Bequest of Mary Kirby.

  • Pleated Mourning Fan (France)
  • silk crepe leaf, painted wood guards and sticks inlaid with black spangles,....
  • Gift of Anonymous Donor.
  • 1952-161-226

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Its dimensions are

H x W: 182.2 × 114.3 cm (5 ft. 11 3/4 in. × 45 in.)

Cite this object as

Adinkra Ceremonial Wrapper (Ghana); cotton; H x W: 182.2 × 114.3 cm (5 ft. 11 3/4 in. × 45 in.); Bequest of Mary Kirby; 1962-123-2

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition David Adjaye Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection.

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Adinkra Ceremonial Wrapper (Ghana) |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=26 November 2022 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>