January 10, 2019

Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa

Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University

Left: Virgin and Child, ca. 1275–1300. Ivory with paint, 36.8 × 16.5 × 12.7 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917, 17.190.295. Middle: Kneeling Figure Natamatao, Mopti region, Mali, 10–14th century. Terracotta, 46 x 22.3 x 21.5 cm. Musée national du Mali. Photo: Seydou Camara, 90-25-10. Right: Seated Figure, Possibly Ife, Tada, 
Nigeria, late 13–14th century. Copper with traces of arsenic, lead, and tin, H. 54 cm. Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, 79.R18.

Northwestern University's Block Museum of Art is pleased to announce the opening of the exhibition Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa running January 26–July 21, 2019. Travel with The Block Museum to a time when West African gold fueled expansive trade and drove the movement of people, culture, and religious beliefs.

Caravans of Gold is the first major exhibition addressing the scope of Saharan trade and the shared history of West Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe from the eighth to sixteenth centuries. Weaving stories about interconnected histories, the exhibition showcases the objects and ideas at the crossroads of the medieval Sahara and celebrates West Africa’s historic and underrecognized global significance. Caravans of Gold draws on recent archaeological discoveries, including rare fragments from major African trading centers like Sijilmasa in Morocco and Gao and Tadmekka in Mali. These “fragments in time” are seen alongside works of art that invite us to imagine them as they once were. They are the starting point for a new understanding of the medieval past and for seeing the present in a new light.

Presenting more than 250 artworks spanning five centuries and a vast geographic expanse, the exhibition features unprecedented loans from partner institutions in Mali, Morocco, and Nigeria, many of which will be seen in North America for the first time.

The Block Museum exhibition will travel to The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto (fall 2019) and to the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute (spring 2020)

Saturday, January 26
Opening celebration: Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time
Join the Block Museum of Art for a journey along Africa's medieval trade routes—a story of art, culture, and exchange stretching from the Sahara across the globe, and into our own time.

Caravans and Crossroads: Art, Music, and Stories (10:30am–1pm)
Hands-on, artist-led activities explore the powerful stories that objects tell. Live West African music and DJ sets throughout the museum including special guest seventh-generation griot Morikeba Kouyate.

Opening program: Caravans of Gold (2pm)
Renowned speakers include Chris Abani, Nigerian-born novelist, poet, and essayist and winner of 2009 Guggenheim Award; Gus Casely-Hayford, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C, and host of the BBC’s Lost Kingdoms of Africa. They will be joined by Caravans of Gold curator Kathleen Bickford Berzock, the Block’s Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs and former curator of African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. [RSVP]

Exhibition publication: Caravans of Gold, Fragments In Time
The Block Museum and Princeton University Press
Hardcover, 2019, 65 USD, ISBN 9780691182681, 304 pp, 9 x 11 inches, 192 color illus.

The publication Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time draws on the latest archaeological discoveries and art historical research to construct a compelling look at medieval trans-Saharan exchange and its legacy. Contributors from diverse disciplines present case studies that form a rich portrayal of a distant time. These “fragments in time” offer irrefutable evidence of the key role that Africa played in medieval history and promote a new understanding of the past and the present.

Exhibition support
Caravans of Gold has been made possible in part by two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The exhibition is also supported by Northwestern University's Buffett Institute for Global Studies. An anonymous donor has made possible the exhibition’s travel to the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Myers Foundations, the Alumnae of Northwestern University, the Robert Lehman Foundation, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, and the Evanston Arts Council.

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