MBAD African Bead Museum – Detroit, Michigan - Atlas Obscura
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Detroit, Michigan

MBAD African Bead Museum

The collection of ceremonial and cultural objects spans many countries and hundreds of years. 

Here, beads aren’t just ornaments—they’re fascinating ways of signifying power, status, and culture.

Tucked into a former house on Detroit’s near west side, a short ride from downtown, the MBAD African Bead Museum contains scores of jars and thousands of strands spanning hundreds of years and a slew of places across the African continent.

Unlike many museums, where artifacts are concealed behind thick glass, visitors are invited to handle these strands, made from seeds, shells, rocks, even bone. (And many are also for sale.)

In addition to the collection of beads that carry a lot of cultural significance, the museum holds books on African history and culture, paintings and sculpture from local African-American artists, and objects crafted from ivory, silver, and other materials.

Collector, curator, and writer Olayami Dabls is the driving force behind the project. He has also decked out the sprawling lot behind the rowhouse with poignant art installations made from rock, metal, and crushed glass and mirror fragments. On the main floor, he regales visitors with talks about his travels and the rich history of beads.