Groundbreaking Swahili art exhibition to travel to Smithsonian, Fowler Museums
World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean. Prita Meier and Allyson Purpura, eds., 2018. (384 pp., 125 illus.) © Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois on behalf of Krannert Art Museum. Book design: Practise, Providence, RI
Kenya, Wasini Island, ca. 19th century. Amulet Case. Silver. Lamu Museum, National Museums of Kenya, no. 18. Photo by

The 384-page volume is edited by the co-curators of the exhibition—Allyson Purpura, senior curator and curator of global African art at KAM, and Prita Meier, assistant professor of Art History at New York University. Focusing on eastern and central Africa and the western Indian Ocean world, the catalogue’s eighteen essays offer compelling new perspectives on the mobile and deeply networked social lives of Swahili objects. The exhibition and catalogue are made possible in part by major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The catalogue is distributed through the University of Washington Press.

“The goal of the catalogue was similar to that of the exhibition,” said Purpura, “to attest to the Swahili coast as a vibrant site of global cultural convergence and to Africa’s contributions to the artistic vocabulary of the wider Indian Ocean world.” 

“Moreover,” she adds, “exploring how Swahili arts have been implicated in the politics of trade and imperialism brings a fuller understanding to the objects and to Swahili coast history more broadly.”

The book serves as both exhibition catalogue and scholarly volume. World on the Horizon contains personal reflections, object biographies and in-depth critical treatments by a range of contributors, including Edward A. Alpers, Heike Behrend, Ann Biersteker, Fahad Bishara, Allan deSouza, Jeffrey Fleisher, Athman Hussein, Paola Ivanov, Sarah Longair, Pedro Machado, Rebecca Gearhart Mafazy, Nidhi Mahajan, Janet McIntosh, Jeremy Prestholdt, Allen F. Roberts, Stephen J. Rockel, MacKenzie Moon Ryan and Nancy Um.

The catalogue and exhibition offer an unprecedented opportunity to view over 150 artworks brought together from public and private collections from four continents, including loans from the National Museums of Kenya and the Bait Al Zubair Museum in Oman traveling outside their countries for the first time. More than a third of the 125 illustrations feature artworks never before published.

Ranging from jewelry and clothing to impressive architectural elements, and including illuminated Qur’ans, objects of regalia and photographic portraits, World on the Horizon introduces museum visitors to a broad range of Swahili objects. During the exhibition’s final month at the University of Illinois, two events will invite visitors to study these objects more deeply. On March 7, doctoral candidate Jenny Peruski will lead a gallery conversation titled “Fetishizing the Foot: Mobility and Meaning in Indian Ocean Sandals.” On Thursday, March 8, members of the African Students Organization will hold a Global Africa Community Forum event titled, “World on the Horizon: Points of Departure.” Both events are free and open to the public.

On view at KAM until March 24, World on the Horizon will travel to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. in May 2018 and then to Fowler Museum at UCLA in Los Angeles, Calif. in October 2018.

About the exhibition

World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean is the first major traveling exhibition dedicated to the arts of the Swahili coast and their historically deep and enduring connections to eastern and central Africa, the port towns of the western Indian Ocean, and, given their circulation within imperial networks of trade and diplomacy, to Europe and the eastern seaboard of the United States.

World on the Horizon has been made possible in part by major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.*

Additional sponsorship provided by the ADAA Foundation Curatorial Award and the Association of Art Museum Curators, College of Fine + Applied Arts Matching Funding Program, College of Fine + Applied Arts Creative Research Award, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Campus Research Board and Krannert Art Museum.

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

About Krannert Art Museum

Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion ( promotes a vibrant exchange of ideas in the visual arts. The museum’s rich permanent collection contains works of art dating from the fourth millennium BCE to the present, representing a broad range of cultures and varied modes of artistic expression. A unit of the College of Fine and Applied Arts ( at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (, the museum is located at the corner of Sixth St. and Peabody Dr. in Champaign, Ill and is the second largest general fine arts museum in Illinois. Complete information on events, exhibitions, location and hours of operation is available via the museum website.


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