The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art reopens Friday, July 16. This is the first opportunity for visitors to see the museum’s newest exhibition, “Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange Across Medieval Saharan Africa.” Originally scheduled to open in April 2020, the exhibition has been extended until Feb. 27, 2022.
“The exhibition is a landmark opportunity to reconsider our understanding of world history,” said Kevin D. Dumouchelle, curator at the National Museum of African Art. “In this exhibition, African artists, innovators, intellectuals and traders reclaim their central place in our understanding of a period that laid the foundations for the global early modern world. Africa’s history truly is a world history.”
“Caravans of Gold” is the first major exhibition to explore global medieval Saharan Africa and the pivotal role traders, artists and intellectuals had in bridging connections between West Africa (including modern-day Morocco, Mali and Nigeria) to places as remote from the Sahara as Italy, Iran, China and the U.K. The exhibition features over 300 works from the eighth to 15th centuries A.D. demonstrating the global reach of African peoples, ideas and materials in the period.
Developed in close collaboration with lending partner institutions in Mali, Morocco and Nigeria, “Caravans of Gold” displays only archaeological works from public collections in Africa, the U.S. or Europe that were legally exported from their country of origin. It also features globally recognized masterworks from national museum collections in Nigeria, Mali and Morocco, on view to visitors in Washington, D.C., for the first time.
“‘Caravans of Gold’ is the starting point for a new understanding of the medieval past and for seeing the present in a new light,” said Kathleen Bickford Berzock, the exhibition’s organizing curator and associate director for curatorial affairs at Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art. “The legacy of medieval trans-Saharan exchange has largely been omitted from Western historical narratives and art histories, and certainly from the way that Africa is presented in art museums. This exhibition goes a long way to address this. ‘Caravans of Gold’ shines a light on Africa’s pivotal role in world history through the tangible materials that remain.”
The exhibition is on view until Feb. 27, 2022, thanks to its lending institutions and the collaborative efforts of the Block Museum of Art, the exhibition’s originating museum. Visitors can also view the exhibition online.
Planning a Visit
The safety of visitors and staff is the museum’s highest priority. The museum has implemented several new safeguards based on recommendations from public health officials:
- Initially, the museum will be open Wednesday to Sunday 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
- For the safety of our visitors and staff, groups larger than 12 are strictly prohibited.
- All visitors who are not feeling well should stay home, including those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
- Face coverings are required for visitors ages 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
The exhibition is accompanied by the publication Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time, edited by Berzock and co-published by the Block Museum of Art and Princeton University Press. The recipient of multiple recent awards, including those from the Association of Art Museum Curators and the Arts Council of the African Studies Association, the publication draws on interdisciplinary discoveries and research to construct a compelling look at networks and narratives that center the Sahara in medieval history. In the lavishly illustrated volume, 21 international contributors present case studies that form a rich portrayal of a distant time. Topics include descriptions of key medieval cities around the Sahara; networks of exchange that contributed to the circulation of gold, copper and ivory and their associated art forms; and medieval glass bead production in West Africa’s forest region.
About the National Museum of African Art
The National Museum of African Art is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of Africa’s arts across time and media. The museum’s collection of over 12,000 artworks spans more than 1,000 years of African history and includes a variety of media from across the continent—from sculpture and painting, to photography, pottery, jewelry, textile, video and sound art. The museum is located at 950 Independence Ave. S.W., near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. For more information, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the National Museum of African Art’s website. For general Smithsonian information, call (202) 633-1000. Follow the museum on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook and join in the discussion about the exhibition on social media using #CaravansOfGold or #CaravansNMAfA.
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