Currently ‘online only’ due to COVID-19 restrictions
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.
“Caravans of Gold is organized by The Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University and made possible in part by two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. The exhibition is also supported in part by Northwestern’s Buffett Institute for Global Studies. The exhibition’s travel to the NMAfA is made possible by the support of five anonymous donors, and generous contributions by Sonny and Michelle Kalsi, Sukey and Michael Novogratz, Susie Hahn and Jon Roy, Mustafa A. Jama, Marti Meyerson and Jamie Hooper, Cory and Diane Pulfrey, Owen and Jennifer Thomas, Stephen Trevor and Stephanie Hunt, and Zoe Cruz. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Myers Foundations, and the Sandra L. Riggs Publications Fund.”
Opened November 16, 2019
Be your best. This is the quest that the greatest of heroes model for us. Through their journeys, struggles, and triumphs, exceptional individuals exemplify values that we celebrate in tales of heroic accomplishment.
Through art, artists tell such stories—stories of the world’s current complexity, but also visions of a world that could yet be. Heroes: Principles of African Greatness features artworks from the National Museum of African Art’s permanent collection that tell the story of key heroic principles and personages in Africa’s arts and history. Throughout, core values are considered as each artwork is paired with a specific historic African individual who embodies the value expressed in the selected work.
Discover Africa’s heroes—some well-known, others perhaps surprising—and see artworks in new ways.
June 20, 2019 through 2022
Taking its name from a 1970’s feminist anthem, I Am… Contemporary Women Artists of Africa draws upon a selection of artworks by women artists from the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art’s permanent collection to reveal a more contemporary feminism that recognizes the contributions of women to the most pressing issues of their times. With experimental and sophisticated use of diverse media, the 27 featured artists offer insightful and visually stunning approaches to matters of community, faith, the environment, politics, colonial encounters, racism, identity, and more.
Visionary ideas propel the greatest human accomplishments.
Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa’s Arts, the National Museum of African Art’s most recent, large-scale presentation of its collection, is the first to offer broad thematic connections between artworks across the spectrum of time, place, and medium. Visionary aims to get visitors to look with fresh and focused insight and, in so doing, to see works of art—and each other—with new eyes.
Commissioned from internationally renowned artist Yinka Shonibare MBE, the installation of Wind Sculpture VII at the entrance to our museum promises to mark a new landmark of public art on the National Mall. The ship-sail shapes of Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture series, painted to appear like his trademark wax-print cloth material, evoke cross-continental connections—in history, in trade, in politics, in ideas, and in contemporary art.
Water is in all of us—to live, we need water to drink. Featuring artworks from the museum’s permanent collection, this exhibition proves that water is one of most potent forces on earth. Its currents flow through myths, metaphors, and rituals. Diverse and wide-ranging in material, time period, style, and intended use, the objects in this exhibition span the continent of Africa to explore the importance of water for both practical and artistic purposes.
Backtalk: Artists on Native, African, and African American Stereotypes is an online exhibition that examines how nine artists interrogate and engage racial and cultural stereotypes in their creative practice. Part of a collaborative investigation of the persistence of racial and cultural stereotypes, Backtalk is grounded in the vision of Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director emerita of the National Museum of African art, to explore stereotypes across cultures.
The Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa project is proud to present Sailors and Daughters: Early Photography and the Indian Ocean World, the Museum’s first-ever online exhibit made possible by a gift from the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center. Sailors and Daughters reveals the expansive maritime societies of Zanzibar, the east African coast, and Persian Gulf. From the 1840’s, cameras traced the international migrations of traders, sailors, sons, and daughters through Indian Ocean ports, continuing trade that dates back over five millennia. For instance, a highlight of the exhibition brings together early images by German photographer Hermann Burkhardt of Oman in 1904, which resemble photographs captured in Stone Town. East African cities flourished as hubs of both land and sea trade routes, which extended to the central African interior, the Middle East, Indian Ocean islands, western India and the Far East.