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Origins of the Afro Comb

Comb made from strips of cane. Cameroon, 20th Century. © Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

6,000 years of culture, politics and identity …

The 6,000-year history of the Afro Comb, its extraordinary impact on cultures worldwide, and community stories relating to hair today are being explored in an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology in Cambridge.

The exhibit has been open to the public since 2 July and will be available to view until 3 November 2013.

Curated by Sally-Ann Ashton, Senior Assistant Keeper, Antiquities, Fitzwilliam Museum and artist and writer Michael McMillan it exhibits how the traditional African comb has been used in the creation, maintenance, and decoration of hairstyles for both men and women for over 6 millennia.

Origins of the Afro Comb follows the evolution of the comb from pre-dynastic Egypt to modern-day, tracing the similarities in form and the remarkable diversity of designs found across Africa and the African Diaspora. The exhibition is a part of a legacy project to record how the comb is used today, with visitors being encouraged to contribute their personal stories and hairstyles both to the exhibition and to archives for future generations.

I have already contributed my story and I’m excited to see how it was included in the exhibit tomorrow! A group is heading to Cambridge tomorrow morning to support the great work that has been done to put this together and educate our communities.

14 sept

A digital interaction gallery will show projections of personal stories about combs and African type hair, as well as the contribution personal styling has had to play in maintaining and expressing cultural identity.

At the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, the story is brought into the present with three connected contemporary art installations My Hair: Black Hair Culture, Style and Politics by artist and writer Michael McMillan.

Contributions from the widening public about their hair stories are being welcomed throughout the exhibition and beyond at the website http://www.originsoftheafrocomb.co.uk/.

Ashton commented: “Regardless of where you are and whether you visit the exhibition, we would love to hear from anybody who uses the combs today, who thinks about hair styles and what they might mean in general, or who might just be interested in cultural history at a global scale.

One of the most important displays in the exhibition is a case of combs with lost histories. They have no story because it was never recorded at the time; now we have no way of knowing. With enough contributions from the public we can create an important archive reflecting a unique part of our global culture today, and continue the story for future generations.”

This project is partially supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

2 July to 3 November 2013 The Fitzwilliam Museum
Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RB
2 July to 28 September 2013 The Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology
Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3DZ


Tuesday – Saturday: 10.00 – 17.00

Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays: 12.00 – 17.00


About Combing for Curls

Ghanaian-Nigerian Accra-based natural hair blogger and vlogger. Creator/curator of African culture and political content.


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