'Caravans of Gold' reminds us that Africa has always been connected to the rest of the world
"Caravans of Gold" presents more than 250 artworks and archeological fragments, both African and European, and spans five centuries and thousands of miles of geographic terrain. From textiles, terra-cotta figures, and text fragments to ivory and cast-copper sculptures, ceramics, and gold coins, the exhibit tells a story of sophisticated and multidirectional trade networks and global interdependence, emphasizing the through lines between language and culture, and proving that the medieval era was not just about knights in chain mail fighting on behalf of their feudal lords.
In development for nearly eight years, the exhibition is an ambitious undertaking for a relatively small university museum like the Block. Normally an exhibition of this scale would appear at a much larger institution, such as the Met or the Art Institute, but Northwestern's multidisciplinary approach to learning and its worldwide connections and influential reach helped facilitate the necessary loans and collaborations to realize it. (The university is also home to the first African Studies program in the U.S., founded in 1947, as well as the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies that houses the largest separate collection of Africana in the world.) Support, in part through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the university's Buffett Institute for Global Studies, among others, enabled the Block to consult with partner institutions and archaeologists in Mali, Morocco, and Nigeria and welcome these African colleagues to Northwestern's Evanston campus.