What can a 1,000-dinar Algerian banknote depicting prehistoric cave art teach us about the evolution of African civilization? What is the story behind a $10 bill issued by the Bank of Canada featuring Viola Desmond, a Black businessperson and civil rights activist and the first Canadian woman to appear on a regularly circulating banknote? Because money has long played a pivotal role in how societies evolve, interact, clash, and make amends, a nation or culture’s unique physical currency is a window into its history and values. The Black Money Exhibit, conceived by Harcourt Fuller to educate the public about the importance of money as a visual source of knowledge, uses paper money to explore 10,000 years of Black history, cultures, and lived experiences.
Displayed on “money trees” inspired by the iconic baobab, or “tree of life,” native to the African savanna, the exhibit includes over 300 rare, obsolete, and currently circulating banknotes from more than 80 countries and territories in Africa, Europe, and the Americas. These serve as jumping-offs point to explore themes such as African civilizations and art, enslavement and freedom around the world, and Black music and dance. Following a successful pilot at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History in 2018, Fuller and his collaborators will use the Fellowship to tour the exhibit across the US, produce an accompanying documentary and soundtrack, host a Black Money Talks discussion series, and develop lesson plans in consultation with middle- and high-school teachers.
With their multiplatform approach, Fuller and his team hope to use money – one of the most widely circulated forms of mass media in history – to engage a wide public in an examination of the cross-sections between history, culture, and currency, moving towards a richer understanding of Africa and the African Diaspora.