Skip to main content
Skip to main content
for

Block Museum shines a light on medieval Africa as a cultural force in major new traveling exhibition

An ambitious exhibition showcases the splendor and power of the lost kingdoms and commercial centers of Africa, using centuries-old artifacts from sites around the Sahara Desert and artwork from West and North Africa, Europe and the Middle East that reveal the reach of Saharan networks, in a first-of-its-kind show that opened in January.

The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University’s “Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange Across Medieval Saharan Africa” debuted at the Block Jan. 26 through July 21, 2019, before traveling to the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto (Sept. 21 2019-Feb. 23, 2020) and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. (April 8-Nov. 29, 2020).

Presenting more than 250 artworks and fragments spanning five centuries and a vast geographic expanse, the exhibition features loans from partner museums and institutions in Mali, Morocco and Nigeria, including many items that have never been presented in the United States.

Multimedia Downloads

Embed Video:

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/G6C_WCz67Dw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Exhibition preparation images

Download All Images (.zip file)

Seated Figure, Possibly Ife, Tada
Nigeria, is unpacked inside The Block Museum.
Seated Figure, Possibly Ife, Tada
Nigeria, is unpacked inside The Block Museum.
Pictured inside The Block Museum: Seated Figure, Possibly Ife, Tada, Nigeria, Late 13th-14th century, Copper with traces of arsenic, lead, and tin, H. 54 cm, Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, 79.R18
Pictured inside The Block Museum: Seated Figure, Possibly Ife, Tada, Nigeria, Late 13th-14th century, Copper with traces of arsenic, lead, and tin, H. 54 cm, Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, 79.R18
Researcher inspects Dinar of al-Mustans ̇ir Billaˉh (r. 1036–1094 ce), issued AH 461, struck at Mis ̇r (Cairo). Gold, diameter 22 mm. Bank al-Maghrib, Rabat, Morocco, 521508
Researcher inspects Dinar of al-Mustans ̇ir Billaˉh (r. 1036–1094 ce), issued AH 461, struck at Mis ̇r (Cairo). Gold, diameter 22 mm. Bank al-Maghrib, Rabat, Morocco, 521508

Select exhibition works

The following works will be among 250 artworks and fragments on display Jan. 26 to June 21, 2019 at The Block.

The exhibition catalogue preview is available online. To receive a press copy, email Stephanie Kulke or Erin Karter.

Talismanic Textile, Probably Senegal, late 19th or early 20th century, Four panels joined: cotton, plain weave; painted; amulets of animal hide and felt attached by knotted strips of leather,255.2 cm x 178.8 cm, Art Institute of Chicago 
2000.326
Talismanic Textile, Probably Senegal, late 19th or early 20th century, Four panels joined: cotton, plain weave; painted; amulets of animal hide and felt attached by knotted strips of leather,255.2 cm x 178.8 cm, Art Institute of Chicago 
2000.326
Kneeling Figure, Natamatao, Mopti region
Mali, Terracotta, 12th to 14th century, 46 cm x 22.3 cm x 21.5 cm, Musée national du Mali, Photograph by Seydou Camara,90-25-10
Kneeling Figure, Natamatao, Mopti region
Mali, Terracotta, 12th to 14th century, 46 cm x 22.3 cm x 21.5 cm, Musée national du Mali, Photograph by Seydou Camara,90-25-10
Seated Figure, Possibly Ife, Tada, 
Nigeria, Late 13th-14th century, Copper with traces of arsenic, lead, and tin, H. 54 cm, Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, 79.R18, Image courtesy of National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja, Nigeria.
Seated Figure, Possibly Ife, Tada, 
Nigeria, Late 13th-14th century, Copper with traces of arsenic, lead, and tin, H. 54 cm, Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, 79.R18, Image courtesy of National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja, Nigeria.
Elephant head, Ife, Lafogido
Nigeria, 12th-15th century, Terracotta, H: 15.5, Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, 63/24a, Image courtesy of National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja, Nigeria.
Elephant head, Ife, Lafogido
Nigeria, 12th-15th century, Terracotta, H: 15.5, Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, 63/24a, Image courtesy of National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja, Nigeria.
Virgin and Child, ca. 1275–1300, France, Ivory with paint, 14 1/2 × 6 1/2 × 5 in. (36.8 × 16.5 × 12.7 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917, 17.190.295
Virgin and Child, ca. 1275–1300, France, Ivory with paint, 14 1/2 × 6 1/2 × 5 in. (36.8 × 16.5 × 12.7 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917, 17.190.295
Tent poles, Tent poles, Wood, H 136.8 cm W 16.5 cm D 2.8 cm, ©The Field Museum, Image No. A115335d_004A, Cat. No. 279194.1-.2, Photographer John Weinstein
Tent poles, Tent poles, Wood, H 136.8 cm W 16.5 cm D 2.8 cm, ©The Field Museum, Image No. A115335d_004A, Cat. No. 279194.1-.2, Photographer John Weinstein
Ivory Casket, Casket. Italy (Sicily), 12th century.  Ivory, brass, tempera, gold leaf, 9.5 × 15.9 × 9.7 cm. Art Institute of Chicago, Samuel P. Avery Endowment (1926.389) / Art Resource, NY
Ivory Casket, Casket. Italy (Sicily), 12th century. Ivory, brass, tempera, gold leaf, 9.5 × 15.9 × 9.7 cm. Art Institute of Chicago, Samuel P. Avery Endowment (1926.389) / Art Resource, NY
Gold Jewelry Ornaments, Tukulor artist, Mauritania, Late - early 20th century, Gold alloy, Gift of the Roy and Brigitta Mitchell Collection, Photograph by Franko Khoury, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
Gold Jewelry Ornaments, Tukulor artist, Mauritania, Late - early 20th century, Gold alloy, Gift of the Roy and Brigitta Mitchell Collection, Photograph by Franko Khoury, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
Tuareg camel saddle (tarik or tamzak), Algerian Sahara. Leather, rawhide, wood, parchment or vellum, wool, silk, tin-plated metal, brass-plated metal, iron, copper alloy, cheetah skin,75 x 71 x 46 cm. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, gift of the Estate of Dr. Lloyd Cabot Briggs, 1975, 975-32-50/11927
© President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
Tuareg camel saddle (tarik or tamzak), Algerian Sahara. Leather, rawhide, wood, parchment or vellum, wool, silk, tin-plated metal, brass-plated metal, iron, copper alloy, cheetah skin,75 x 71 x 46 cm. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, gift of the Estate of Dr. Lloyd Cabot Briggs, 1975, 975-32-50/11927
© President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
Bowl, Egypt or Syria, 1293/1341, Brass inlaid with silver, The Aga Khan Museum, AKM610.
Bowl, Egypt or Syria, 1293/1341, Brass inlaid with silver, The Aga Khan Museum, AKM610.
Biconical bead, Egypt or Syria, 10th -11th century Gold; filigree, granulation, "rope" wire L. 7.2 cm, H. 2.9 cm, The Aga Khan Museum, AKM618.
Biconical bead, Egypt or Syria, 10th -11th century Gold; filigree, granulation, "rope" wire L. 7.2 cm, H. 2.9 cm, The Aga Khan Museum, AKM618.
Horseman and Four Figures, Region of Bankoni, Mali, Terracotta, 13th/16th century (based on Thermoluminescence testing), Art Institute of Chicago.
Horseman and Four Figures, Region of Bankoni, Mali, Terracotta, 13th/16th century (based on Thermoluminescence testing), Art Institute of Chicago.
Dinar of al-Mustans ̇ir Billaˉh (r. 1036–1094 ce), issued AH 461, struck at Mis ̇r (Cairo). Gold, diameter 22 mm. Bank al-Maghrib, Rabat, Morocco, 521508. Photograph by Fouad Mahdaoui
Dinar of al-Mustans ̇ir Billaˉh (r. 1036–1094 ce), issued AH 461, struck at Mis ̇r (Cairo). Gold, diameter 22 mm. Bank al-Maghrib, Rabat, Morocco, 521508. Photograph by Fouad Mahdaoui
Cap with striped inscribed silk, Egypt or Syria, Mamluk period, probably sultanate of al-Nasir al-Din Muhammad (reigned 1293–1341, with two interruptions), 14th century, Lampas fabric, silk and gold, Cleveland Museum of Art, purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund, 1985.5
Cap with striped inscribed silk, Egypt or Syria, Mamluk period, probably sultanate of al-Nasir al-Din Muhammad (reigned 1293–1341, with two interruptions), 14th century, Lampas fabric, silk and gold, Cleveland Museum of Art, purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund, 1985.5
Manuscript on the stars, the constellations, and the Gregorian calendar. Probably Nigeria, 20th century. Ink on paper, Melville J. Herskovits Library, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, Falke 1107. Photograph by Clare Britt
Manuscript on the stars, the constellations, and the Gregorian calendar. Probably Nigeria, 20th century. Ink on paper, Melville J. Herskovits Library, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, Falke 1107. Photograph by Clare Britt
Ahmad Baˉbaˉ al-Tinbuktıˉ, as dictated to Yuˉsuf al-Isıˉ, The Uttermost Hope in the Preference of Sincere Intention over Action, Timbuktu, Mali, 1592. Ink on paper, 20 x 15.5 cm. Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, Northwestern University Library, Hunwick 541. Photograph by Clare Britt
Ahmad Baˉbaˉ al-Tinbuktıˉ, as dictated to Yuˉsuf al-Isıˉ, The Uttermost Hope in the Preference of Sincere Intention over Action, Timbuktu, Mali, 1592. Ink on paper, 20 x 15.5 cm. Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, Northwestern University Library, Hunwick 541. Photograph by Clare Britt
Muhammad al-Kaˉbarıˉ, Garden of the Useful and Beneficent Mali, probably 19th century. Ink on paper, 17 Å~ 23 cm. Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, Paden 161. Photograph by Clare Britt
Muhammad al-Kaˉbarıˉ, Garden of the Useful and Beneficent Mali, probably 19th century. Ink on paper, 17 Å~ 23 cm. Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, Paden 161. Photograph by Clare Britt
Page from the "Blue" Qur'an, 9th-10th century. Ink, gold, and silver (now oxidized) on blue-dyed parchment, 11 3/16 x 15 in. (28.4 x 38.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Beatrice Riese, 1995.51a-b (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1995.51a-b_back_IMLS_SL2.jpg)
Page from the "Blue" Qur'an, 9th-10th century. Ink, gold, and silver (now oxidized) on blue-dyed parchment, 11 3/16 x 15 in. (28.4 x 38.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Beatrice Riese, 1995.51a-b (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1995.51a-b_back_IMLS_SL2.jpg)
Naddo Ceccarelli, The Crucifixion, Siena, Italy, 1350–59. Tempera and gold on wood panel, 76 × 31.6 × 2.5 cm. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, bequest of Henry Walters, 37.737
Naddo Ceccarelli, The Crucifixion, Siena, Italy, 1350–59. Tempera and gold on wood panel, 76 × 31.6 × 2.5 cm. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, bequest of Henry Walters, 37.737
Ring excavated at Sijilmasa, Morocco, 9th/10th century. Gold, diameter 1.9 cm. Fondation nationale des musées du Royaume du Maroc, Rabat, 2006-1. Photograph by Abdallah Fili and Hafsa El Hassani
Ring excavated at Sijilmasa, Morocco, 9th/10th century. Gold, diameter 1.9 cm. Fondation nationale des musées du Royaume du Maroc, Rabat, 2006-1. Photograph by Abdallah Fili and Hafsa El Hassani
Gold jewelry from tumulus 7,  Durbi Takusheyi, Nigeria, 13th - 15th century. National Commission for Museums and  Monuments, Abuja, Nigeria. Photograph by René Müller
Gold jewelry from tumulus 7, Durbi Takusheyi, Nigeria, 13th - 15th century. National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja, Nigeria. Photograph by René Müller

Maps

During the medieval period, major trade routes crossing the Sahara Desert linked cities and towns that functioned as trade centers.

Southward the routes connected with the Niger River, a major byway to Africa’s forest region. Northward they connected to the vast trade networks of the Mediterranean Sea, traveling inland across Europe, while eastward they met the Levantine routes and ultimately the Silk Roads of Central and East Asia.

Download All Images (.zip file)

Excavations

Download All Images (.zip file)

A selection of excavated finds from Essouk-Tadmekka, including fragments of glazed ceramics (among which is an oil lamp), stone beads and semi-precious stones, Mali. Photograph by Sam Nixon
A selection of excavated finds from Essouk-Tadmekka, including fragments of glazed ceramics (among which is an oil lamp), stone beads and semi-precious stones, Mali. Photograph by Sam Nixon
Excavations within the Sijilmasa mosque, with exposed walls from the “Filalian” period. Photograph by MAPS, 1996
Excavations within the Sijilmasa mosque, with exposed walls from the “Filalian” period. Photograph by MAPS, 1996
Looking down into excavation unit in Tadmekka from the surface; the image shows digging at depth of approximately 5 meters at the depth of the earliest walls recorded. Photograph by Sam Nixon, 2005
Looking down into excavation unit in Tadmekka from the surface; the image shows digging at depth of approximately 5 meters at the depth of the earliest walls recorded. Photograph by Sam Nixon, 2005

Scene setting

Download All Images (.zip file)

Dromedary camels, loaded with slabs of salt, on caravan route, Timbuktu, Mali, 1971, Photograph by Eliot Elisofon. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, EEPA EECL 14130
Dromedary camels, loaded with slabs of salt, on caravan route, Timbuktu, Mali, 1971, Photograph by Eliot Elisofon. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, EEPA EECL 14130
Atlas of Maritime Charts (The Catalan Atlas) [detail of Mansa Musa], Abraham Cresque (1325–1387), 1375, Mallorca. Parchment mounted on six wood panels, illuminated. Bibliothèque nationale de France. On view in exhibition as reproduction.
Atlas of Maritime Charts (The Catalan Atlas) [detail of Mansa Musa], Abraham Cresque (1325–1387), 1375, Mallorca. Parchment mounted on six wood panels, illuminated. Bibliothèque nationale de France. On view in exhibition as reproduction.
Gate of the Wind or Bab Fez (Gate to Fez) stands at the northern limit of Sijilmasa. Ancient arcades over a portal were restored in a more recent era. Photograph by Kathleen Bickford Berzock, 2017
Gate of the Wind or Bab Fez (Gate to Fez) stands at the northern limit of Sijilmasa. Ancient arcades over a portal were restored in a more recent era. Photograph by Kathleen Bickford Berzock, 2017
The great mosque of Jenne and the Monday great market, August 2013. Photograph by Hamdia Traore
The great mosque of Jenne and the Monday great market, August 2013. Photograph by Hamdia Traore
Erg Chebbi dunes. Photograph by Cynthia Becker, 2010
Erg Chebbi dunes. Photograph by Cynthia Becker, 2010
Erg Chebbi dunes. Photograph by Cynthia Becker, 2010
Erg Chebbi dunes. Photograph by Cynthia Becker, 2010
A man rides his camel to market in the Agadez region of central Niger. Photograph by Cynthia Becker, 2009
A man rides his camel to market in the Agadez region of central Niger. Photograph by Cynthia Becker, 2009