Gallery Feature | Between Land and Sea: The Itinerant Arts of the Swahili Coast


Pair of thick silver anklets from Oman or Zanzibar. They are decorated with textures that resemble folded or embroidered fabric and have a button at the top that serves as a clasp to close them around the ankle of the wearer.
Omani or Zanzibari artist, Pair of Hinged Anklets, 19th c. Silver. Museum purchase through the John E. Moyer Sr and Chris Moyer Endowment Fund. 2020-4-1


Wooden mask that resembles a wide-faced man with hair and a cap or crown. The face of the mask is painted yellow and the paint is chipped. You can see light through the mouth, which has carved teeth.
Makonde artist, Portrait Mask (Ilipiko), ca. 1940. Wood with human hair, paint, and pigment. Museum purchase through the Iver M. Nelson Jr Art Acquisition Fund. 2019-23-1


On view
Oct 3, 2020 to Jul 3, 2021
Main Level, African Gallery

A suite of exquisite works included in KAM’s acclaimed traveling exhibition, World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean, have made their debut as new acquisitions in Encounters: The Arts of Africa this fall.

These wide-ranging objects are connected through shared histories of trade, mobility, and aesthetic exchange that distinguish the arts of eastern Africa and the Swahili world.

An entertainment mask from Mozambique represents a Makonde artist’s vision of an elegant Swahili beauty; a healer’s staff from Tanzania is expertly embellished with delicate carving that resonates with Swahili aesthetic preferences for dense, geometric patterning; a pair of carved sandals, an embroidered cap from the Kenyan coast, and the hinged, sliver anklets from Zanzibar or Oman speak to the Swahili delight in lavish, cosmopolitan styles of dress; and the ornate brass sheeting on a storage chest from Lamu, off the coast of Kenya, reveals a Swahili artisan’s elaboration of a western Indian art form.

Connected by far-reaching networks of artistic affinity, these works highlight the deep and enduring story of Africa as a vibrant arena of global cultural convergence. They also expand KAM’s African holdings beyond the conventional, Anglo art historical canon with its preferences for western and central African aesthetic traditions.

We thank Bob and Nancy Nooter, Iver M. Nelson, Jr., and the KAM Council for their generous support of these acquisitions.

Curated by Allyson Purpura, Senior Curator and Curator of Global African Art

spiral bound page that has a grid of red markings with two circular fields, one gold and the other red and white. On each field is a rectangle.
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A graceful plum tree in full flower sits under a full moon. The sky is inky black but the moonlight makes each blossom seem to glow with inner light.
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