For centuries, peoples from the Arabian Peninsula, Asia, Africa, and Europe have journeyed across the Indian Ocean in many directions. On the east African coast, this confluence of peoples gave rise to many diverse communities that are often called “Swahili”—after the Arabic word meaning “edge” or “coast.” The exhibition challenges fixed and familiar notions of places like Africa and Asia, and asks visitors to ponder how artistic practices lead people to remap their relationship to seemingly distant cultures.
More than 150 artworks from Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Oman, and India demonstrate how the region is a vibrant site of cultural convergence and illuminate Africa’s contributions to the artistic vocabulary of the wider Indian Ocean world. Among the objects included are beautifully illuminated Qur’ans, intricately carved architectural elements and embellished furniture, vintage studio portraits, and lavish silver and ivory jewelry. Forty works on loan from the National Museums of Kenya and the Bait Al Zubair Museum in Oman are touring the U.S. for the first time.
This exhibition takes visitors into the streets and homes of Swahili port towns and beyond, highlighting the arts of diplomacy and trade, the built environment and interior display, sociality and self-fashioning, spiritual knowledge and pious devotion. The arts on view speak to an outward-looking ethos—one of encounter and possibility, negotiation, and struggle—that connects the people on the Swahili coast with faraway places, and reveal how people bring the world home.
World on the Horizon was organized by Krannert Art Museum (KAM), University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign, and was curated by Prita Meier, Associate Professor of Art History at New York University, and Allyson Purpura, KAM Senior Curator and Curator of Global African Art. This exhibition 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 and Creative Research Award, University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign Campus Research Board, and Krannert Art Museum.
Major funding for the Los Angeles presentation is provided by the Martha and Avrum Bluming Exhibition Fund with additional support from the Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director’s Discretionary Fund, the Barbara and Joseph Goldenberg Fund, the George R. and Nancy L. Ellis Endowment Fund, the Fowler Exhibition Fund, and Ellen Perlmutter and Edward Jones.
World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean co-curators Prita Meier and Allyson Purpura present the exhibition’s overarching themes and bring to life some of the finest objects on view. They also will recount how the relationships forged with the National Museums of Kenya and the Bait al Zubair Museum in Oman enabled unprecedented loans on view for the first time in the United States.
Program begins at :10 seconds.