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This art gallery brings Africa to the ‘City With Soul’

Jean Carson warmly welcomes customers who stop by the Afrikan Art Gallery at 800 North Farish St., a few blocks north of downtown Jackson, through a haze of scented, burning incense, making sure to mention the gallery’s goods are authentic and handmade.

Many items, such as the clothing, are from Ghana, and the wood carvings are from Kenya. The gallery has backpacks for every age in colorful hues and intricate patterns, such as the popular Kente cloth, and “mud cloth,” a Malian cotton cloth dyed using fermented mud. The colors are striking and bold — “a feast for the eyes and a smile for your soul,” said Carson, the manager here.

Before this location, the Afrikan Art Gallery was located near the intersection at Bailey Avenue and Fortification Street. Owner Nyika Ajanaku once operated five businesses in the metro area. Currently, the one store is located in the Jessie Williams Building, a space that’s not only an art gallery, but also a meeting place for book signings, educational seminars and after-school activities for children.

Ajanaku has imported a variety of artwork, clothing, jewelry, musical instruments and wood carvings from Africa. From dashikis to kaftans and sundresses, he has filled his store with everything a customer needs to complete an ensemble and decorate a dwelling.

“I just love it here,” said long-time customer Ada Miller Robinson. “I’ve been coming and buying here for years,” she says, shortly before darting off to help Clemontine Whitaker, a fellow-customer and friend. Both ladies admire a sun dress Robinson models for Whitaker, while Carson tends to a family browsing the jewelry cases.

Ajanaku has been a mainstay in the area for 49 years. His advertising for the gallery reads: “Where the Afrikan image is everything!”

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