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TO OCT. 17

A few years ago when I decided to wrap my head for the first time, I have to admit, I didn’t know what I was doing. With a too-short 2-yard length of a wrap skirt too small for its original purpose, I twisted, folded, and tucked every which way possible and then set out for the windy college campus. In part, it was a statement to prove my grandmother wrong: She thought I rebelled against everything she stood for. But the way Granny wrapped her head in elegant allegiance to what she swore was a Christian god—and the concoctions I saw her sprinkling about the house—expressed a powerful belief in an African reality that I couldn’t help but admire. According to Andrea Nicolls, curator of the National Museum of African Art’s latest exhibit, “Hats Off!: A Salute to African Headwear,” “Many African cultures throughout the continent have long considered the head the center of one’s being—a source of individual and collective identity, power, intelligence, and ability. Adorning the head as part of everyday attire or as a statement, therefore, is especially significant.” Whether its purpose is to honor the skills of a farmers or blacksmith or to imbue its wearer with status and power, African headgear comes in many forms. And the exhibit has 14 examples, made with everything from feathers to plant fibers to animal teeth, to prove it. (A Lega elephant-tail hat is pictured.) As the Asante people say, “If one has a head, one wears a hat.” On view daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., to Sunday, Oct. 17, at the National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Ave. SW. Free. (202) 357-4600. (Ayesha Morris)