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

January 26, 2019 - July 21, 2019
Main Gallery

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

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

Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time challenges the widely held bias of a timeless Africa that is cut off from the dynamics of world history. This will be the first major exhibition to take stock of the material culture of early trans-Saharan trade and to offer strong evidence of the central but little-recognized role Africa played in medieval history.  Among the diverse materials on view in the exhibition will be sculptures, jewelry, household and luxury objects, manuscripts, and architectural remnants. What unites these materials is their connections to routes of exchange across the Sahara Desert during the medieval period (eighth through 16th centuries).

Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time addresses the shared history of West Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe during the critical epoch of the eighth through 16th centuries, when West African gold fueled a global economy and was the impetus for the movement of things, people and ideas across the Sahara Desert to Europe, the Middle East and beyond. Because of the scarcity of surviving intact works from before the 16th century, the early history and material culture of Africa have rarely been the focus of major exhibitions.

More than 100 assembled artworks and archeological fragments will help audiences discover the far-reaching impact of historic trans-Saharan exchange and the overlooked role of West Africa at the forefront of these developments. Using objects as points of entry and inquiry, Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time will interweave the art history, archaeology, history and comparative literature of trans-Saharan trade, situating it within a broad geographical and historical context.

A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue with contributions by multiple authors from across disciplines, representing the interdisciplinary scope of the project. Catalogue will be co-published by the Block Museum of Art and Princeton University Press.

An interdisciplinary team of specialists from art history, archaeology, history, and comparative literature working in Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and Europe are advisors to the project.

Caravans of Gold, Fragments of Time has been made possible in part by major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Caravans of Gold is also supported in part by Northwestern University's Buffett Institute for Global Studies. An anonymous donor made possible the exhibition’s travel to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and other venues. Additional support is provided by the Alumnae of Northwestern University, the Robert Lehman Foundation, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, and the Evanston Arts Council, an agency supported by the City of Evanston. The related publication is supported in part by Northwestern University's Office for Research, Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the Sandra L. Riggs Publications Fund at the Block Museum of Art, and a gift from Liz Warnock to the Department of Art History at Northwestern University. Special thanks to the Art Institute of Chicago for curatorial research support. 

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