The Medieval African Art presents a “Caravans of Gold” exhibition

Medieval African Arts - Caravans of Gold - Omenka Gallery

Block Museum of Art presents Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Arts, Culture and Exchange Across Medieval Saharan Africa, an exhibition featuring over 250 works spanning more than five centuries and multiple continents. Caravans of Gold is the first significant exhibition presenting art from the medieval period to demonstrate the global impact of Trans-Saharan trade and the shared history of West Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

The opening at the Block included remarks from Nigerian-born English Prof. Chris Abani, the host of BBC’s Lost Kingdoms of Africa Gus Casely-Hayford and Berzock. The exhibition will run at the Block through July 21 before traveling to the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

Lindsay Bosch, the marketing and communications manager of the Block, said the key thesis of the exhibition is that the medieval world was much more interconnected, cosmopolitan and global than most people believe and that Africa held a central place within that world.

“It is a challenge to try and tell the story of a culture that doesn’t have a lot left, and it is a challenge telling that story with small pieces to represent an entire kingdom,” Bosch said. “But it is a fun challenge,” Bosch said a point of pride for the exhibition is the display of fragments of African beads, pottery, and gold, as well as with Arabic manuscripts from the medieval period and other related artwork from more recent periods.

The juxtaposition of the artifacts, coupled with videos of archaeologists in Mali, Morocco, and Nigeria explaining how they connect the fragments to the artwork, provides concrete evidence of the role West Africa played in the development of the early modern era. This approach allows museum-goers to note the presence of African gold in pages of a Christian Bible, Jewish prayer book and Islamic Quran, or to compare a piece of glazed ceramic found in Mali to a 12th-century Chinese bowl.

According to Esmeralda Kale, the curator of the Northwestern Herskovits Library of African Studies, “the exhibition is significant in that it not only highlights the fact that many of the works collected from medieval Europe were influenced by medieval African trade and intellectual discourse, but that it also provides Northwestern students with the chance to see artifacts that have never been on loan to the United States.”…(Museum-goers) are going to see a sliver of the past that they might never see again, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Arts, Culture and Exchange Across Medieval Saharan Africa runs at Block Museum until July 21, 2019.


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