Special Interest

The National Museum of African Art Opens Exhibition On Swahili Arts

On 9 May 2018, the “World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean” will be opening at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. to reveal the diverse interchanges that break down barriers between Africa and Asia.

The National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

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 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.

National Museum of African Art Director Gus Casely-Hayford, said: “The arts of Africa are truly global, inspiring artists across the world. 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.”

The exhibition is curated by Allyson Purpura, senior curator and curator of Global African Art at Krannert Art Museum in Urbana-Champaign, Ill., and Prita Meier, assistant professor of art history at New York University, and overseen in Washington by Kevin D. 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.”