Women wearing gold jewelry during traditional jewelry parade
Photograph by Marian Ashby Johnson, circa mid-1980s
Marian Ashby Johnson’s donation to the National Museum of African Art showcases the delicate and refined work of the Wolof and Tukulor goldsmiths of Senegal. Building on extensive fieldwork and interviews starting in the mid-1960s, as well as museum and archival research in London, Chicago, Paris, and Senegal, Johnson assembled a unique collection of jewelry, accompanied by an archive of over 2,000 study images.
Together, they provide an almost encyclopedic overview of Senegalese taste and the role of gold jewelry in Senegal’s cultural, economic, and political history. Johnson’s research looks at the Bambouk goldfields of the Senegal River; documents the techniques, materials, and social class of goldsmiths (teugues); and reveals the inspirational and economic roles of women in commissioning, trading, and fashioning Senegalese jewelry. Johnson’s detailed research and generous gift provide a golden opportunity to understand the breadth and complexity of gold in Senegal.
Continuing with Johnson’s groundbreaking research, from 2013 onward curator Amanda M. Maples has tracked down the jewelers instrumental to the project, while also commissioning new jewelry and collaborating with contemporary artists, photographers, goldsmiths, and fashion designers. Here goldsmith Mountaga Cissoko points out the bracelet he created decades ago, proud to have it published in Good as Gold. Cissoko still operates from the same shop in the Soumbedioune artisanal market in Dakar.
Young woman wearing a lupa loup or butterfly necklace
Photograph by Marian Ashby Johnson, 1971
Madame N’Deye N’Diaye wearing her grandmother’s pendant
Photograph by Marian Ashby Johnson, 1963–64
As evidenced in these portraits, historical gestures and bodily expressions linger in today’s self-imaging. Here, a granddaughter wearing her grandmother’s jewelry poses for the camera. The focus on the head and hands is reminiscent of the earliest of photographic posturing.
Woman wearing panier des fleures or cher toi design
Soumbedioune Market, Dakar, Senegal
Photograph by Marian Ashby Johnson, circa 1970s
Binette N’Diaye, a midwife from Dakar, wearing korval necklace
Photograph by Marian Ashby Johnson, circa 1972