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Origins of the Afro Comb: 6,000 Years of Culture, Politics, and Identity

This exhibition is now in our archive.

Hair and grooming have always played an important role in the culture of Africa and the African Diaspora. The traditional African comb or pick has played a crucial role in the creation, maintenance, and decoration of hair-styles for both men and women.

In many African societies, ancient and modern, the hair comb symbolises status, group affiliation, and religious beliefs, and is encoded with ritual properties. The handles of combs are decorated with objects of status, such as the headrest, human figures, and motifs that reference nature and the traditional spiritual world.

In the 20th century ‘afro’ combs have taken on a wider political and cultural message, perhaps most notably in the form of the ‘black fist’ comb that references the Black power salute.

By looking at archaeological records of burials, and through recording oral histories in modern societies it is hoped the project will provide a much better understanding of the status of this iconic object and the spiritual and societal status it can hold. This project aims to trace the history and the meaning of the African hair comb over nearly 6000 years in Africa, through to its re-emergence amongst the Diaspora in the Americas, Britain and the Caribbean.


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