National Museum of African Art
950 Independence Ave., SW
Gold from West Africa was the engine that drove the movement of things, people, and ideas across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East in an interconnected medieval world. As the incredible works in this exhibition show, it is not possible to understand the emergence of the early modern world without this West African story.
Caravans of Gold calls on what archaeologists have termed “the archaeological imagination”—the act of recapturing the past through surviving traces—to present a critical rethinking of the medieval period. Here, rare and precious archaeological fragments are seen side by side, bringing new understanding to complete works of art from the medieval period.
Medieval Africa begins with the spread of Islam in the 8th century C.E. and recedes with the arrival of Europeans along the continent’s Atlantic Coast at the end of the 15th century. During this era, the Sahara Desert was the center of a global network of exchange. As networks spread, so too did cultural practices, fostering the broad circulation of distinctive Saharan aesthetic and intellectual traditions connected to Islam. The reach of trans-Saharan exchange is revealed in the fragments excavated from archaeological sites, now uninhabited, that were once vibrant communities.