Zanzibar Stamp with dhow, UK/Zanzibar PO [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

World on the Horizon:
Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean


Co-curated by:
  Allyson Purpura, Senior Curator & Curator of African Art
  Krannert Art Museum
  Prita Meier, Assistant Professor of Art History
  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Exhibition Description

World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean will be the first major traveling exhibition dedicated to the arts of the Swahili coast and their historically deep, fluid, and enduring connections to eastern and central Africa and the port towns of the western Indian Ocean world.

The exhibition will offer audiences an unprecedented opportunity to view over 130 artworks brought together from public and private collections in Kenya, Germany, the Netherlands, Oman, and the United States. Drawing from both historical and contemporary periods, World on the Horizon will explore the Swahili coast, interior, and western Indian Ocean rim as worlds linked not only by centuries of trade, but also through the flow of aesthetic ideas and practices that have long traversed the region. It will invite visitors to see Swahili aesthetic forms as itinerant and open to re-visioning across both time and space, and to consider what happens when different systems of signification meet in culturally confluent zones like the Swahili coast.

The exhibition will feature objects and artworks recognized not only for their artistic excellence, but also for how they visualize wide-reaching networks of mobility and encounter. For over a millennium, itinerant traders, laborers, scholars, artisans, empire-builders, and emissaries from the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian sub-continent, China, Africa, Europe, and North America have journeyed throughout the Indian Ocean, some settling in its flourishing port towns, others returning to their places of origin with the seasonal shifts of the monsoon winds.

In the highly stratified yet fluid social world of the Swahili coast and wider Indian Ocean region, performing and negotiating rights, allegiances, and identities were highly aestheticized—be it through the oral and literary arts, sartorial style, architectural and interior design and decoration, the embellishment of everyday and devotional objects, expressions of religious piety, or styling before the lens in photographic studios.

Organized thematically, the exhibition will feature objects and images drawn from all of these contexts, such as beautifully illuminated manuscripts, exquisitely carved doorposts, lintels, and furniture, maps, paintings and photographic portraits, jewelry and shoes, and masks, figures, and objects of regalia.

Exhibition themes include:

  • Between Land and Sea: Objects in Motion
  • Architecture of the Port
  • At Home in the World: Swahili Interiors
  • In the Presence of Words: The Devotional and Literary Arts
  • Trading the Gaze: Photography on the Swahili Coast
  • An Ocean of Adornment

A fully illustrated companion publication will feature essays contributed by eighteen senior and emerging scholars that reflect critically on the historiography of the visual arts, culture and exchange across the region.

Unique Contributions
Taking the Swahili coast as its point of departure across both land and sea, the exhibition will demonstrate concretely what it means to bring a “global perspective” to the visual arts—not only by focusing on transoceanic histories of intercultural exchange, but also by engaging with the broader implications of these histories today.

The exhibition’s interpretive approach avoids reifying “Islamic art” as something that is unified, separate from, and thus incorporated into Swahili aesthetics, and looks instead at Islam as a constitutive part of indigenous Swahili visual art forms and practices. The exhibition will also challenge facile oppositions between the local and global, between “Arab” and “African,” and between “native” and “foreigner” to reveal more fluid negotiations of power, difference, and identity in the region.

In sum, World on the Horizon will demonstrate that Swahili arts are marked by multiple histories and aesthetic trends that are themselves itinerant and subject to diverging claims and interpretations. As such, they prompt us to "un-discipline" art historical canons and museological conventions that have long kept Africa and Asia apart—and in place.


Selections from the Checklist: (Exhibition contents are contingent upon finalization of loan agreements and subject to change. Complete provisional checklist available upon request.)

World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean will require a minimum of 5000 square feet of gallery space, and include artworks wide ranging in both dimension and material. The exhibition will be accompanied by a multi-authored scholarly catalogue co-edited by Purpura and Meier.

For further information, please contact:

Kathleen Harleman, Museum Director and Acting Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts: harleman(at)illinois.edu

Claudia Corlett-Stahl, Museum Senior Acting Associate Director: cjstahl(at)illinois.edu

Allyson Purpura, Senior Curator and Curator of African Art: purpura(at)illinois.edu



National Endowment for the Humanities Logo

World on the Horizon has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor*; ADAA Foundation Curatorial Award and the Association of Art Museum Curators; College of Fine + Applied Arts Creative Research Award; Campus Research Board.

*Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.




World on the Horizon—Exhibition Details

Organizing Institution: 
Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Co-curators:
Allyson Purpura
Krannert Art Museum
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Allyson Purpura (PhD CUNY Graduate Center) is Senior Curator and Curator of Global African Art at Krannert Art Museum, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research on the social construction of Islamic expertise 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. Recent projects include an award-winning reinstallation of KAM’s African art collection, and solo exhibitions with artists Wosene Worke Kosrof, Allan deSouza, Moshekwa Langa, Victor Ekpuk, and Nnenna Okore. She is currently working on a major traveling exhibition on the itinerant arts of the Swahili coast with art historian Prita Meier.

Prita Meier
Assistant Professor of Art History
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Prita Meier (PhD, Harvard University) is Assistant Professor of African visual culture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Mobility in Stone: Architecture and Globalization on the Swahili Coast (forthcoming Indiana University Press) and has published on a range of subjects, including Africanist art historical methodologies, modernism in African art, the cultural dimensions of globalization on the Swahili coast, histories of photography, and the politics of contemporary Global South exhibitions.

Currently Meier is working on a book project titled Trading the Gaze: African Photography at the Indian Ocean Crossroads and co-organizing World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts across the Indian Ocean with Allyson Purpura. She is a fellow at the Clark Art Institute (2014-2015) and has held fellowships at Cornell University’s Society for the Humanities (2009-2010) and Johns Hopkins University (2007-2009).


Contents:
Approximately 130 objects and artworks of varying size and material (Contents contingent upon finalization of loan agreements and are subject to change. Complete provisional checklist available upon request.)


Space requirements:
5000 square feet, adjustable


Accompanying materials:
Digital files of all labels and didactic materials; digital files of all interactive media components/projections; objects will travel with appropriate mounts.


Publication:
The exhibition will be accompanied by a multi-authored, illustrated volume coedited by the curators.


Costs:
Loan fee: $50,000
Shipping fee: $25,000


Initial Exhibition:

Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL
September 2017 through March 2018


Tentative Schedule for Traveling Venues:

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.
May through August 2018

Fowler Museum, University of California at Los Angeles
September 2018 through January 2019



For further information, please contact:

Kathleen Harleman, Museum Director and Acting Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts: harleman(at)illinois.edu

Claudia Corlett-Stahl, Museum Senior Acting Associate Director: cjstahl(at)illinois.edu

Allyson Purpura, Senior Curator and Curator of African Art: purpura(at)illinois.edu


 




Image:

Zanzibar Stamp
with dhow

UK/Zanzibar PO
[Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons