New Exhibit at Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University: “Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange Across Medieval Saharan Africa”

Author: Megan J. Hall

Medieval Africa Exhibit

"In popular discourse, the arts of Africa are positioned as having been discovered, interpolated, and folded into major Western art movements for the first time in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The rise of modern art was concurrent with the “Scramble for Africa,” which officially began at the Berlin Conference in 1884, when European powerheads divided and claimed ownership over the majority of the nearly 12 million square miles that comprise the continent. As they’ve been codified by historians, these events imply that there was nothing happening in Africa prior to the arrival of Europeans; as German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel dismissively wrote, Africa is “no historical part of the world,” with “no movement or development to exhibit.

"Although several decades of archaeological and paleontological excavations have proven that life on this planet began in Africa, by and large, the continent has remained shrouded in a myopically dense, Eurocentric fog. Accounts of the existence of major cities and empires in Africa during the Middle Ages and before—including Kush in present-day southern Egypt and central Sudan, Axum in what is now Ethiopia, and Great Zimbabwe in modern-day Zimbabwe—are myriad. The legacy of colonialism, however, often overshadows more than a millennia of African history. 

"A new exhibition at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University aims to shine a light on Africa’s significant connections to and influence on the economy and material culture of the world—centuries before the calamitous brutality of imperialism and the transatlantic slave trade."

Read the full story, "Unpacking Medieval African Art’s Profound Global Legacy," a write-up about the exhibit by Niama Safia Sandy, at The exhibit runs January 26, 2019 through July 21, 2019.