Exhibition | World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts across the Indian Ocean

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on March 23, 2018

Frederick de Wit, Portolan Chart Indiarum Orientalum, from Harmonia macrocosmica, plate 56 (Amsterdam, 1708).

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Press release (9 March 2018) from The Smithsonian (also see the “Curators’ Notes,” which includes helpful installation photographs, from Journal18, published in October 2017). . .

World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts across the Indian Ocean
Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 31 August 2017 — 24 March 2018
Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., 9 May — 3 September 2018
Fowler Museum, University of California at Los Angeles, 21 October 2018 — 10 February 2019

Curated by Allyson Purpura and Prita Meier

World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean opens at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art May 9. The exhibition, on view through September 3 in the International Gallery, reveals the diverse interchanges that break down barriers between Africa and Asia in a space that physically connects the Smithsonian’s African and Asian art museums.

The Swahili coast, where East Africa meets the Indian Ocean, has long been a significant cultural, diplomatic, and commercial intersection for Africa, Asia, and Europe for millennia. World on the Horizon offers audiences an unprecedented opportunity to view over 160 artworks brought together from public and private collections from four continents. The artworks, through an intricate network of trade and diplomacy, have historically deep and enduring connections to eastern and central Africa, the port towns of the western Indian Ocean, Europe, and the eastern seaboard of the United States. One-of-a-kind objects loaned from the National Museums of Kenya and the Bait Al Zubair Museum in Oman will make their debut to North American audiences. The exhibition is thematically organized and features objects and images recognized for not only their artistic excellence, but also how they visualize wide-reaching networks of mobility and encounter. Ranging from intimate pieces of jewelry to impressive architectural elements, the exhibition includes exquisitely illuminated Qur’ans, carved doorposts, furniture, maps, and other works.

Door frame, detail, Kenya, Pate Island, Siyu, ca. 18th–19th century, African mahogany wood (Lamu Museum, National Museums of Kenya; photo: chrisbrownphoto.com).

“The arts of Africa are truly global, inspiring artists across the world,” said National Museum of African Art Director Gus Casely-Hayford. “But that inspiration also moves in multiple directions, and it includes African artists’ awareness and reflection of the aesthetic vision of other cultures. As the stunning and surprising works on view in this exhibition reveal, the seemingly rigid frontiers that have come to define places like Africa and Asia are in fact remarkably fluid, connected through the intersections of art, commerce, and culture.”

Swahili objects embody multiple cultural histories and aesthetic trends that are themselves itinerant and open to interpretation. World on the Horizon demonstrates how the Swahili coast is a vibrant site of global cultural convergence and to Africa’s contributions to the artistic vocabulary of the wider Indian Ocean world.

The exhibition is curated by Allyson Purpura, senior curator and curator of Global African Art at Krannert Art Museum in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, and Prita Meier, assistant professor of art history at New York University, and overseen in Washington by Kevin Dumouchelle, curator at the National Museum of African Art. The exhibition opened at the Krannert in August 2017, and following its showing at the National Museum of African Art, it will travel to the Fowler Museum at UCLA in fall 2018.

World on the Horizon is the exciting realization of years of research, collaboration and relationship building in the Swahili coast,” Dumouchelle said. “Loans secured from public and private collections in Kenya, Tanzania, Oman, Europe and the United States represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our audiences to see these artworks together in conversation.”

Allyson Purpura is senior curator and curator of Global African Art at the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research on the politics of Islamic knowledge practices in Zanzibar led to her current interest in the broader connections between knowledge and power, particularly as they play out in the representational practices of museums. In addition to her teaching and curatorial practice, Purpura has published on a range of topics, including Islamic charisma and piety in Zanzibar, script and image in African art, ‘undisciplined’ knowledge, ephemeral art, and the politics of exhibiting African art. She has a Ph.D. from CUNY Graduate Center.

Prita S. Meier is assistant professor of art history at New York University. Her research focuses on the arts and architectures of east African port cities and the histories of transcontinental exchange and conflict. She is the author of Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere (Indiana University Press, 2016). Meier is working on a new book about the social and aesthetic history of photography in Zanzibar and Mombasa. She is currently the William C. Seitz Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study of the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.). Meier has a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Kevin D. Dumouchelle has served as curator at the National Museum of African Art since October 2016. He was the lead curator for Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa’s Arts (2017), the museum’s most recent, comprehensive presentation of its permanent collection. From 2007 to 2016, he was the Brooklyn Museum’s curator in charge of its African and Pacific Islands collections. At Brooklyn, he conceived two award-winning reinstallations of the African collection: African Innovations (2014) and Double Take: African Innovations (2014). He has written books and articles and curated a range of exhibitions on contemporary and historical African art, including Power Incarnate: Allan Stone’s Collection of Sculpture from the Congo (2011) at the Bruce Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum presentations of Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui (2013) and Disguise: Masks and Global African Art (2016). Dumouchelle has a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

The catalogue is distributed by the University of Washington Press:

Prita Meier and Allyson Purpura, eds., World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts across the Indian Ocean (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2018), 368 pages, ISBN: 9781883015497, $50.

With contributions by Edward A. Alpers, Heike Behrend, Ann Biersteker, Fahad Bishara, Allan deSouza, Jeffrey Fleisher, Athman Hussein, Paola Ivanov, Sarah Longair, Pedro Machado, Rebecca Gearhart Mafazy, Nidhi Mahajan, Janet McIntosh, Jeremy Prestholdt, Allen F. Roberts, Stephen J. Rockel, MacKenzie Moon Ryan, and Nancy Um

Accompanying the World on the Horizon exhibition organized by Krannert Art Museum, this book is the first interdisciplinary study of Swahili visual arts and their historically deep and enduring connections to eastern and central Africa, the port towns of the western Indian Ocean, Europe, and the United States. At once exhibition catalogue and scholarly inquiry, the publication features eighteen essays in a mix of formats—personal reflections, object biographies, as well as more in-depth critical treatments—and includes never before published images of works from the National Museums of Kenya and Bait Al Zubair Museum in Oman. By approaching the east African coast as a vibrant arena of global cultural convergence, these essays offer compelling new perspectives on the situated yet mobile and deeply networked social lives of Swahili objects. Moving between the broader structural relations of political economic change to more intimate narratives through which such change is experienced, the essays throw light on the ways in which the material fabric of the arts structure Swahili people’s sense of self and community in an ever-changing world of oceanic and terrestrial movement.

%d bloggers like this: