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How a Golden Bookmark Sparked an Odyssey to Honor Shakira’s Artistry

Bilingual Grammy Museum exhibit is devoted to the life and work of the Colombian artist

spinner image Music artist Shakira
Photo by: Michael Caulfield/Contour by Getty Images

Years ago, Shakira sent me a golden bookmark. Her career was just getting started, and I had written a glowing review covering one of her concerts. Like many other music journalists, I was completely taken by her talent and charisma, the power of her voice and the luminous energy emanating from the stage as she belly danced to “Ojos así,” a tribute to her Lebanese roots. A couple of weeks later, I received her gift and a phone call thanking me for my words.

I remembered the bookmark late last year, when the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles asked me to guest curate an exhibit devoted to the most famous Colombian singer of all time. I accepted without hesitation, eager to design a museum experience that offered a multifaceted view of her artistry. I’ve always been annoyed by the mainstream’s tendency to underestimate beautiful women who sing pop songs as lightweight stars. If there was anything I knew about Shakira before embarking on this adventure, it was that her artistic vision is much more profound and complex than one would initially assume.

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spinner image Images of Shakira shown on a wall at the Shakira, Shakira: The GRAMMY Museum Experience exhibit
Dance is a fundamental part of Shakira's creative process.
Rebecca Sapp

From the beginning, we envisioned an exhibit that would be truly interactive — a minimalist experience, with high contrasts and memorable details. The bilingual “Shakira, Shakira: The Grammy Museum Experience,” open to the public through February 2024, ended up being much more than that.

The first element I proposed was the creation of an interactive map. Revisiting Shakira’s discography, I realized that, both as a singer and a songwriter, she has explored every single genre of popular music: from merengue, reggaetón and bossa nova to French chanson, Arabic pop and bhangra. Far from engaging in cultural appropriation, Shakira tackled these creative forays with respect, teaming up with local specialists so that the songs would remain faithful to the original genres.

spinner image Artificial blue butterflies hang from the ceiling at the Shakira, Shakira: The GRAMMY Museum Experience
The artificial blue butterflies hanging from the ceiling are a tribute to Shakira's Colombian roots.
Rebecca Sapp

The final iteration of the map occupies three walls, focusing on Colombia, the Caribbean and the rest of the world. It includes screens equipped with headphones so that visitors can listen to the referenced songs and watch music videos.

In the main hall, just before opening night, the exhibit’s designer added a lovely touch: a row of blue artificial butterflies hanging from the ceiling, swaying softly. The butterflies are a clear tribute to Shakira’s Colombian roots — right out of a Gabriel García Márquez novel — and this subtle effect transported me to South America, which is also my place of origin.

spinner image A pink guitar next to a photo of Shakira playing that guitar during a performance on display at the Shakira, Shakira: The GRAMMY Museum Experience
A Fender Stratocaster guitar covered with pink Swarovski crystals that Shakira played during her Oral Fixation tour in 2006 and 2007.
Rebecca Sapp

Featuring Shakira’s lyrics was also essential. We picked “La Tortura,” “Vuelve” and “Whenever, Wherever” to illustrate the dizzying array of historic and biblical references, as well as her poetic style. Nor could we leave out her dancing. To add an interactive element, we came up with a TikTok challenge offering a small, brightly lit stage where visitors can take a video of themselves trying some of the singer’s infamous choreographies.

Yet, with all the progress we were making putting together our ideas, there was a small matter still pending: We had yet to obtain artifacts from Shakira’s team. Days went by and we waited for an invitation to travel to Barcelona and hand pick treasures from her personal collection.

spinner image A display of Shakira about her philanthropic work at the Shakira, Shakira: The GRAMMY Museum Experience
Shakira approaches each song as an excursion with respect to the roots of each musical genre.
Rebecca Sapp

When the moment arrived, the museum’s chief curator flew to Spain to pack and transport these precious items: the Super Bowl halftime show outfit, musical instruments, family photos, dresses and accessories.

The one item that touched me the most was a simple notebook kept in her private recording studio with fragments of handwritten lyrics — songs from El Dorado, my favorite Shakira record. I was deeply moved looking at those initial sketches, some words crossed out and written over. It was a window into the artist in the making, an intimate look at the creative process, the oft elusive search for a new song.

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spinner image A notebook, which Shakira keeps in her recording studio, with fragments of handwritten lyrics.
A songwriting notebook with handwritten lyrics that Shakira kept in her private recording studio.
Rebecca Sapp

Six months elapsed between our first creative meeting and the opening. Six months filled with debates, flashes of inspiration, late night emails and a process marked by the generosity with which team members motivated and supported each another so that the finished project reflected everything we aspired it to be.

After an exhausting press day, with television cameras and journalists who arrived from all over the world to cover the event, the exhibit opened on a Friday evening in early March.

As I walked through the exhibit halls and saw the smiles of people listening to the songs, admiring the singer’s personal items and reading my written annotations, I realized that our initial goal had been accomplished: a deeper understanding of Shakira’s extraordinary talent and creativity.

On a personal level, I felt I was closing a circle that began decades ago, when I saw Shakira in concert for the first time. The golden bookmark had gained wings and become a yearlong exhibit. Even after the exhibit closes, the experience will stay with me for the rest of my life.

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