My Grandma Has Been to Africa 6 Times: Here’s the Decor She Brought Back and How She Displays It at Home

published Jul 18, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

My grandma is my role model for more reasons than I can count. To me, one of the most inspiring things about her is her love of travel and her commitment to learning about our culture and history as Black Americans.

During her 40s and 50s, my grandma visited the continent of Africa six separate times and never came home empty-handed. Now, at 73, she’s got a treasure trove of souvenirs that double as decor to commemorate her trips and our heritage.

“Before these trips, I was an American of African descent who knew nothing about her native land,” my grandma says. “I had many friends who were Italian and visited Italy, and Irish friends who had visited Ireland, but I had never visited Africa. So I needed to change that.”

As Black Americans, it can be hard to trace our roots back very far due to centuries of slavery and the dehumanization of Africans. Discovering our heritage was the impetus for each of my grandmother’s trips, where she worked her way around the continent visiting the Ivory Coast, Ghana (twice!), Senegal, South Africa, and even Egypt. “My goal was to understand my roots and where I came from,” she says. “I learned so much about who I am through the art that I picked up. Just after my first trip, I understood what gifted artisans my people are and how skilled they are with elements like wood, sand, paint, and fabric.”

My grandmother has a lot of pride in being African, and bringing back art is what allows her to share that pride with everyone who visits her home. So I asked her to share a few special pieces with me and give me the story behind what drew her to each of them.

Credit: Savannah West

Black Madonna and Child

“This piece is actually the African rendition of ‘Madonna with Child,’ and it is one of my absolute favorites,” says my grandmother. “I am proud to be the matriarch of our family, so the way this woman is carrying a baby on her back reminds me of the way I’ve been able to support my family. I loved this piece because this is truly how you see some women in Africa carry their children while they shop, dance, and work. The mother is never away from her child for long, and I wanted this reminder in my home.”

Credit: Savannah West
Pictured from left-to-right: libations cup, fertility statue, the symbol of leadership.

Small but Meaningful Statues

“Out of all three of these pieces, the hand holding the egg is my favorite,” says my grandmother. “The craftsman that sold it to me explained it like this: Leadership is as delicate as an egg. You have to hold it high enough to protect its integrity, but it still has to be familiar enough for people to respect it. So the way I see it, there’s a delicate balance you have to create in leadership, and I did it for 33 years before I retired.”

Credit: Savannah West

Textiles with Style

“I bought this wall tapestry, which could also be used as a throw, at a street market while I was traveling along the Ivory Coast,” says my grandmother. “I was drawn to the colors and the symbols because I’d never seen anything like it. I truly appreciated the fact that something so beautiful was stitched by hand shortly before I purchased it. It was the one item I found that wasn’t made of wood, so I was excited to add it to my collection.”