The revolving doors of the Block Museum never stopped turning as people trickled in for the opening celebration of its newest exhibition Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa.
Starting at 10 a.m., guests were able to wander through the 250-piece exhibit, which takes up the entire second floor of the museum’s galleries. Composed of jewelry, sculptures, written biographies and wearable artifacts, as well as medieval swords and knives, the pieces in the exhibit encompass five different centuries from the 8th to the 16th century and were collected from Mali, Morocco and Nigeria.
Caravans of Gold not only is new to the Block, but also is the first exhibition to showcase the breadth of Saharan trade. This exhibit also is of a volume the Block has never held before, according to Brianna Heath, a docent at the museum. She said this, along with the various programs set for the day, explains the larger crowd of people compared to other exhibit openings.
The collection of artifacts in this exhibit tells the story of West Africa’s significance in the cultural and ideological exchange with the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
Attendees engaged with the story of the exhibit with the help of Morikeba Kouyate, a seventh-generation Jali (Griot), who translated legends and oral histories from medieval West Africa to present day using the kora – a 21-string lute – in the Block Museum’s auditorium.
The day’s activities included making art in a hands-on experience led by Chicago-based artist Rhonda Wheatley. Participants could make bracelets out of colorful string or create their own drawings using colored pencils and markers in order to explore the personal importance of creating art.
As an event where all ages were welcomed, there truly was something for everyone. From performances to making art to walking through the exhibit and reading historical texts, the opening celebration for Caravans of Gold provided an opportunity for anyone to learn more about the under-acknowledged history of West Africa.