World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean

National Museum of African Art
950 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC

Floor Plan

Located at the crossroads of Africa and the Indian Ocean, the Swahili coast has been a vibrant arena of global cultural convergence for over one millennium. For centuries, peoples from the Arabian Peninsula, Asia, Africa, and Europe have journeyed across the Indian Ocean in many directions. On the east African coast, this confluence of peoples gave rise to many diverse communities that are often called “Swahili”—after the Arabic word meaning “edge” or “coast.”

Swahili coast artworks have been shaped by complex migrations across great distances, the formation of new empires, and the making and unmaking of communities and social identities. World on the Horizon explores Swahili arts as objects of mobility, outcomes of encounter, and as products of trade and imperialism. Works from different regions and time periods come together in this exhibition to reveal the movement of artistic forms, motifs, and preferences, and to reflect the changing meanings they may carry during the course of their life histories.