The Traveling Exhibition "Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time" debuted at the Block Museum at the suburban University of Northwest University before traveling to other North American museums.
The exhibition displays more than 250 items, including very rare and precious artifacts from Western African institutions in Mali, Morocco and Nigeria, and traveling for the first time outside of their home countries.
The aim is to show what scientists have known for some time – that Africa is part of an interconnected world in the Middle Ages that has brought wealth to the continent and spreads cultural and religious practices everywhere.
Africa "is definitely an economic engine" in the Middle Ages, said Kathleen Berzok of the Block Museum, who spent seven years in the show's blast.
"The idea behind the exhibition is that, in the Middle Ages, Africa, and especially West Africa, played an absolutely crucial role in uniting regions that ranged from Europe to North Africa to the Middle East," Berzow said.
– Latest discoveries, a new story –
The organizers said the exhibition was the first time an American museum teamed with African colleagues to challenge the notions of the continent isolated from the rest of the world in the eighth to sixteenth centuries.
Artifacts are shown to show evidence of global trade in African goods and materials, with a focus on the role of West African gold.
These include rare fragmented artifacts found in archaeological sites in the Sahara, as well as African sculptures of French honey, European religious artifacts made from African ivory, and other parts of gold, ceramics, glass and textiles.
The articles tell of pre-slavery, the pre-colonial story, which largely remains outside the historical books and school classrooms, the organizers announced.
"This story is not in the forefront," said Abdulkerim Kadiri, acting director general of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, who traveled to the United States for the opening of the show.
"The recent discovery of these art objects has led to this exhibition," Kadiri told AFP.
The next exhibition will travel to the Aga Han Museum in Toronto in September, as well as the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington in April 2020.
– "Center for Intellectual Excellence" –
The idea of medieval Africa as a "center of intellectual perfection," paid for by world bonds and wealth, "is really important for people to understand," said Smithsonian African Art Director August Kasseli-Haiford.
The exhibition comes at a sensational moment in the art world, as important questions are asked about the repatriation of African art captured in the Western countries during the colonial era.
A study commissioned by French President Emanuel Macron in November 2018 recommends returning the African treasures held by French museums – a radical political change that can exert pressure on other former colonial powers.