The Gordon L. Grosscup Museum of Anthropology is displaying a new exhibit titled “Talking Textiles: Fiber Arts from West Africa” Sept. 20 through Dec. 9.

Located in Old Main, the exhibit includes a variety of West African clothes and textiles collected by Karen Dimanche Davis, a Wayne State alumna and part-time professor in anthropology, during her time in West Africa.

Davis said the materials were collected directly from weavers or craft centers in West Africa. 

“A lot of the appliques came directly from the hand of the applique artist who works at the craft center,” Davis. 

Davis has collected the textiles and weaving materials over several years during her three month-long trips to The Republic of Benin, three trips to Senegal and two trips to Morocco.

Museum associate director Megan McCullen said the museum asked Davis to curate pieces from her findings in West Africa.

“(Davis) and the museum staff then selected pieces that reflected different methods of fabric design and tailoring that reflect an array of contemporary clothing, hats and other textiles from West Africa,” McCullen said.

WSU anthropology major Mikalena Gennari works at the museum this semester. Gennari said her favorite part is the tactile textile section.

“It’s the hands-on part and I think that is probably one of the most important parts because you can actually experience it firsthand,” Gennari said.

Davis said most of the pieces in the exhibit are cotton, but petroleum-based manufactured threaded textiles like Lurex are also on display to touch.

Lurex is a Nigerian manufactured thread with a shine that gives the appearance of gold or silver-like sequins.

Commemorative cloths are on display at the exhibit, which portray intricate textile designs made in a factory instead of woven by hand. 

“People who are in groups, like a church or a union, or women whom all work in a hair salon together, go to the factory that makes the cloth,” Davis said.

The exhibition “From Allada to Detroit: Storytelling through material culture in the African diaspora” is also currently on display, curated by Guerin Montilus.

“The two exhibits are really overlapped and intertwined; they do relate to each other,” Davis said. “They’re both about West African philosophy, values and ideas, values and beliefs and how they’re represented in expressive arts.”

Davis and Montilus spent time traveling together in Benin where they both collected African materials that can be seen in the exhibitions.

“I’m focusing on the fabrics expressive arts but he has some fabrics but then a lot of other kinds of expressive arts, like paintings and sculptures and that sort of thing,” Davis said.

Davis said in an email to The South End Nov. 30 she aims to introduce visitors to “the great wealth of skills, knowledge and creativity that has informed African textile arts for over a thousand years.”

“Hopefully, visitors will also start to consider more deeply how cloth, clothing, and other material objects are made and used,” Davis said. “And how they represent our ingrained ideas, ideals, values and beliefs.”

Camille Williams is a contributing writer to The South End. She can be reached at

Cover photo and gallery provided by Camille Williams.