Caravans of Gold

April 2019

Prof. Sarah Guérin’s spring seminar, “Art and Cultural Exchange in the Medieval Mediterranean System,” focused on connectivity across the Mediterranean world in the medieval period. In April 2019, ten seminar students, not only from the History of Art and Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World programs at Penn, but also graduate students from Bryn Mawr and the University of Delaware, traveled to Chicago to see the exhibition, “Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa,” installed at the University of Northwestern’s Block Art Museum. Seeing the “Caravans of Gold” exhibition broadened the purview of the course to include artistic exchange and mercantile trade with the camel-driven caravans that crisscrossed the Sahara in the Middle Ages, linking the Mediterranean and West Africa. Kathleen Bickford Berzock, Chief Curator of the exhibition and Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Block, spent time with the students in the galleries to discuss the very real challenges of object-oriented study and exhibition organization with a corpus of materials from Morocco, Mali and Nigeria. The exhibition included both masterpieces from the national museums of those countries, as well as fragmentary archaeological remains that furnish the hard evidence for long distance trade.

The group’s second day involved a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago African galleries, in the company of Constantine Petridis, Curator of African Art and Chair of the Department of Arts of Africa and the Americas at the Art Institute of Chicago, a scholar dedicated to challenging the common misconceptions surrounding African art.

Professor Guérin and students looking closely at the Igbo Ukwu bronze roped pot, 8th-9th century CE. (National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria)