The image above shows a bead whose finely wrought material and form tell stories about the cross-currents of African trade and culture. The bead was made during the Fatimid dynasty, when gold came from many sources, including mines in the Kingdom of Ghana. Its classic bead shape appears to have travelled across the Sahara during the medieval period and today is found from Mauritania to Niger.
Journey along the Sahara Desert’s trade routes during a time when West African gold directly impacted and connected peoples and cultures, arts and beliefs across continents. Experience the first major exhibition to reveal the shared history of West Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe from the 8th to 16th centuries and see more than 250 artworks, many shown in North America for the first time.
A NEW LOOK AT OLD TREASURES
The exhibition draws on recent archaeological discoveries, showcasing fragments excavated in major African trading centres. These “fragments in time” are displayed alongside stunning works of art from around the world that invite us to imagine the fragments as they once were, to reconsider treasures from the Western canon, and to see the past and present in a new light. Caravans of Gold transforms long-standing narratives about the medieval world and fills a critical gap in our understanding of world history.
AN INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION
The exhibition, which originated at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, was organized in collaboration with an interdisciplinary advisory team of specialists working in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and Europe. The exhibition includes major loans from the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research, the Direction Nationale du Patrimoine Culturel, L’institut des sciences humaines de Bamako, and the Musée National, all in Mali; the Ministry of Culture and Communication and the Bank Al-Maghrib Museum in Morocco; and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria. The Aga Khan Museum has contributed several artworks to this international collaborative venture, which after its residence in Toronto will travel to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. A version of the exhibition will be displayed in Mali, Morocco, and Nigeria after its North American run.
Caravans of Gold was organized by the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. Caravans of Gold has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, as well as by Northwestern University's Buffett Institute for Global Studies. An anonymous donor 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, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In the News
Chicago Tribune, January 28, 2019
The Richest Man Ever Was Not Named Gates or Bezos; He Was King of Mali in the Middle Ages
Curator: Kathleen Bickford Berzock, Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs, Block Museum of Art, former curator of African Art, Art Institute of Chicago