caravans

Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Medieval Trans-Saharan Exchange

January 2019 - June 2019
Main Gallery

Scheduled to open in 2019, “Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Medieval Trans-Saharan Exchange” 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.

This exhibition is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

NEH