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

Detail of The Catalan Atlas
January 26-July 21, 2019
Main Gallery
Atlas of Maritime Charts (The Catalan Atlas) [detail of Mansa Musa], Abraham Cresque (1325–1387), 1375, Mallorca. Parchment mounted on six wood panels, illuminated. Bibliothèque nationale de France. On view in exhibition as reproduction.

قوافل من ذهب، شذرات من التاريخ: فن، ثقافة، وتبادل عبر الصحراء الكبرى خلال القرون الوسطى

Journey to a medieval world with Africa at its center.

Travel with the Block Museum along routes crossing the Sahara Desert 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 that connected 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 medieval African trading centers like Sijilmasa, Gao, and Tadmekka. 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 (Sept. 21, 2019 – Feb. 23, 2020) and then to the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute (April 8 – Nov. 29, 2020)

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Exhibition Publication

The Sahara Desert was a thriving crossroads of exchange for West Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe in the medieval period. Fueling this exchange was West African gold, prized for its purity and used for minting currencies and adorning luxury objects such as jewelry, textiles, and religious objects. 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.

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

The Block Museum and Princeton University Press
Hardcover | 2019 | $65.00 | ISBN 9780691182681
304 pp. | 9 x 11 | 192 color illus.


Featuring a wealth of color images, this fascinating book demonstrates how the rootedness of place, culture, and tradition is closely tied to the circulation of people, objects, and ideas. 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.

Purchase at The Block Museum or online at www. press.princeton.edu

Talismanic Textile

Talismanic Textile

Probably Senegal, late 19th or early 20th century, Four panels joined: cotton, plain weave; painted; amulets of animal hide and felt attached by knotted strips of leather, 255.2 cm x 178.8 cm, Art Institute of Chicago
 2000.326
Kneeling Figure

Kneeling Figure

Natamatao, Mopti region
Mali, Terracotta, 12th to 14th century, 46 cm x 22.3 cm x 21.5 cm, Musée national du Mali, Photograph by Seydou Camara, 90-25-10
Seated Figure

Seated Figure

Possibly Ife, Tada
Nigeria, Late 13th-14th century, Copper with traces of arsenic, lead, and tin, H. 54 cm, Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, 79.R18, Image courtesy of National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja, Nigeria
Elephant head

Elephant head

Ife, Lafogido
Nigeria, 12th-15th century, Terracotta, H: 15.5, Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, 63/24a, Image courtesy of National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja, Nigeria
Virgin and Child

Virgin and Child

ca. 1275–1300, France, Ivory with paint, 14 1/2 × 6 1/2 × 5 in. (36.8 × 16.5 × 12.7 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917, 17.190.295
Tent poles

Tent poles

Tent poles, Wood, H 136.8 cm W 16.5 cm D 2.8 cm, ©The Field Museum, Image No. A115335d_004A, Cat. No. 279194.1-.2, Photographer John Weinstein
Bead

Bead

Fulani, Senegal, 19th-20th Century, gold filigree. Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, Eleanor Clay Ford Fund for African Art, 77.10
Ivory Casket

Ivory Casket

Italy (Sicily), 12th century. Ivory, brass, tempera, gold leaf, 9.5 × 15.9 × 9.7 cm. Art Institute of Chicago, Samuel P. Avery Endowment (1926.389) / Art Resource, NY
Gold Jewelry Ornaments

Gold Jewelry Ornaments

Tukulor artist, Mauritania, Late - early 20th century, Gold alloy, Gift of the Roy and Brigitta Mitchell Collection, Photograph by Franko Khoury, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
Tuareg camel saddle (tarik or tamzak)

Tuareg camel saddle (tarik or tamzak)

Algerian Sahara. Leather, rawhide, wood, parchment or vellum, wool, silk, tin-plated metal, brass-plated metal, iron, copper alloy, cheetah skin,75 x 71 x 46 cm. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, gift of the Estate of Dr. Lloyd Cabot Briggs, 1975, 975-32-50/11927
© President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
Gold Jewelry, Earrings

Gold Jewelry, Earrings

Fulbe artist, Senegal, Mid-20th century, Gold-plated silver alloy, Gift of Dr. Marian Ashby Johnson 2012-18-117, Photograph by Franko Khoury National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
Bowl

Bowl

Egypt, 11th century, Fritware, lustre-painted, Diameter: 20cm., The Aga Khan Museum, AKM684
Bioconical bead

Bioconical bead

Egypt or Syria, 10th -11th century Gold; filigree, granulation, "rope" wire L. 7.2 cm, H. 2.9 cm, The Aga Khan Museum, AKM618
Page from the "Blue" Qur'an

Page from the "Blue" Qur'an

9th-10th century. Ink, gold, and silver (now oxidized) on blue-dyed parchment, 11 3/16 x 15 in. (28.4 x 38.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Beatrice Riese, 1995.51a-b
Manuscript on the stars, the constellations, and the Gregorian calendar

Manuscript on the stars, the constellations, and the Gregorian calendar

Probably Nigeria, 20th century. Ink on paper, Melville J. Herskovits Library, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, Falke 1107. Photograph by Clare Britt
 The Uttermost Hope in the Preference of Sincere Intention over Action

The Uttermost Hope in the Preference of Sincere Intention over Action

Ahmad Baˉbaˉ al-Tinbuktıˉ, as dictated to Yuˉsuf al-Isıˉ, Timbuktu, Mali, 1592. Ink on paper, 20 x 15.5 cm. Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, Northwestern University Library, Hunwick 541. Photograph by Clare Britt
Garden of the Useful and Beneficent Mali

Garden of the Useful and Beneficent Mali

Muhammad al-Kaˉbarıˉ, probably 19th century. Ink on paper, 17 Å~ 23 cm. Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, Paden 161. Photograph by Clare Britt
A selection of excavated finds from Essouk-Tadmekka, including fragments of glazed ceramics (among which is an oil lamp)

A selection of excavated finds from Essouk-Tadmekka, including fragments of glazed ceramics (among which is an oil lamp)

stone beads and semi-precious stones, Mali. Photograph by Sam Nixon
Dinar of al-Mustans ̇ir Billaˉh

Dinar of al-Mustans ̇ir Billaˉh

(r. 1036–1094 ce), issued AH 461, struck at Mis ̇r (Cairo). Gold, diameter 22 mm. Bank al-Maghrib, Rabat, Morocco, 521508. Photograph by Fouad Mahdaoui
Cap with striped inscribed silk

Cap with striped inscribed silk

Egypt or Syria, Mamluk period, probably sultanate of al-Nasir al-Din Muhammad (reigned 1293–1341, with two interruptions), 14th century, Lampas fabric, silk and gold, Cleveland Museum of Art, purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund, 1985.5
Ring excavated at Sijilmasa, Morocco

Ring excavated at Sijilmasa, Morocco

9th/10th century. Gold, diameter 1.9 cm. Fondation nationale des musées du Royaume du Maroc, Rabat, 2006-1. Photograph by Abdallah Fili and Hafsa El Hassani
Gold jewelry from tumulus 7

Gold jewelry from tumulus 7

Durbi Takusheyi, Nigeria, 13th–15th century. National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja, Nigeria. Photograph by René Müller
Atlas of Maritime Charts (The Catalan Atlas) [detail of Mansa Musa]

Atlas of Maritime Charts (The Catalan Atlas) [detail of Mansa Musa]

Abraham Cresque (1325–1387), 1375, Mallorca. Parchment mounted on six wood panels, illuminated. Bibliothèque nationale de France. On view in exhibition as reproduction
Excavations within the Sijilmasa mosque, with exposed walls from the “Filalian” period

Excavations within the Sijilmasa mosque, with exposed walls from the “Filalian” period

Photograph by MAPS, 1996
Erg Chebbi dunes. Photograph by Cynthia Becker, 2010

Erg Chebbi dunes

Photograph by Cynthia Becker, 2010
Erg Chebbi dunes

Erg Chebbi dunes

Photograph by Cynthia Becker, 2010
A man rides his camel to market in the Agadez region of central Niger

A man rides his camel to market in the Agadez region of central Niger

Photograph by Cynthia Becker, 2009
Dromedary camels, loaded with slabs of salt, on caravan route

Dromedary camels, loaded with slabs of salt, on caravan route

Timbuktu, Mali, 1971, Photograph by Eliot Elisofon. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, EEPA EECL 14130

Credits

Caravans of Gold, Fragments of Time is curated by Kathleen Bickford Berzock, Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Block Museum. 

The exhibition has benefitted particularly from the partnership of the following institutions: in Mali, the Direction Nationale du Patrimoine Culturel, Institut des Hautes Études et des Rescherches Islamiques Ahmed Baba, the Institut des Sciences Humaines, and the Musée National du Mali; In Morocco, the Fondation Nationale des Musées, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Royaume du Maroc, and the Musée Bank al-Maghrib; and in Nigeria, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments. In addition, the following scholars have served as key advisors through the development of the exhibition: Abdallah Fili, Mamadou Cissé, Mamadi Dembele, Sarah Guérin, Ron Messier, Sam Nixon, and Ray Silverman. They have been joined by Northwestern University faculty and staff including Esmeralda Kale, Alexandria Kotoch, Christina Normore, Rachael Reidl, Zekeria Salem, Amy Settegren, Rebecca Shereikis, and Marc Walton.

Caravans of Gold, Fragments of Time has been made possible in part by two major planning and implementation grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Caravans of Gold is also generously supported in part 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, an agency supported by the City of Evanston. Special thanks to Perucca Family Foundation and the Art Institute of Chicago for curatorial research support. 

The related publication is supported in part by Northwestern University's Office for Research, Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, a gift from Liz Warnock to the Department of Art History at Northwestern University, and the Sandra L. Riggs Publications Fund at the Block Museum of Art.

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