The Artistry of African Currency

January - March 2001

"The Artistry of African Currency," an exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, features a variety of objects that have been used across Africa to facilitate trade and measure wealth, including jewelry, weapons, tools, shells and coins.

"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 selection of objects commonly used as mediums of exchange such as cowrie shells, beads and metal objects. The metal currencies -- the main focus of the exhibit -- range from conventional forms to highly valued complex designs executed with skill and artistic sensibility.