Development, News, People

Meet Detroit’s African Bead Museum

This coming Saturday, the television show “Under the Radar Michigan” is devoting part of its’ program to Detroit’s African Bead Museum.

For those who are unfamiliar with the show, the team behind “Under the Radar” finds the stories behind Michigan’s unexpected travel destinations. Having done segments on the Sphinx organization, Cliff Bells, and the Inn on Ferry Street, they’ve already started showing Detroit’s cultural highlights. But this one in particular, I can promise you, raises the bar.

The Bead Museum and the installations that surround it are something akin to an early Heidelberg project, but without all the fanfare. Where Heidelberg’s Tyree Guyton uses stuffed animals and tennis shoes, Olayami Dabls favors more earthy components. “Everything here is made of natural material, which can’t help but appeal to your natural sense of aesthetics,” he explains.

Mirror shards literally cover the outside of the museum and several of the buildings nearby. It’s a spectacular sight, especially when the sun hits. A neighbor and good friend of Dabls (who preferred not to be named) took me around. “Count the panels,” he insisted. “People look at the whole and miss the work and vision behind each particular panel.”

Dabls started with the museum building itself, painting it vibrant, primary colors and laying the mirrors  on top of it. All of this, incredibly, is 100% recycled material.

His sense of persistence and attention to detail are palpable. Dabls transformed the entirety of the space around him into living art. Even the sidewalks are painted with African symbols.

“I’m amazed he kept going,” his neighbor added, looking off at the shimmering row of houses past the museum. “He did this all at a marathon speed, and almost all by himself. He’s a kind of Michelangelo.”

And that’s just the outside.

When you walk in, you can often hear Efe play his cora, an ethereal, 21 stringed instrument from Africa. He works with Dabls wearing a traditional mask and is both knowledgeable and charming.

This place stands testament to the importance of beads in African customs. But it extends beyond that, Dabl says. “We found beads from 75,000 years ago in Mali. Before so many other aspects of human culture, we were conscious of the need for this kind of adornment. Beads are important to the psyche. Some people wear them until they die.”

If you’re in the Detroit area, you can find the show on channel 56.1 at 10:30 in the morning. If you’re somewhere else, you can check your local listings here. Tune in or, better yet, go stop in yourself.
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