Only at Northwestern
When Berzock arrived at Northwestern, she was drawn by the museum’s integration within a research university and its collaborative approach with schools and departments across the campus, which further solidified the decision that Northwestern was the ideal place to further pursue her exhibition concept.
“Caravans of Gold is a project that arises organically from Northwestern’s multidisciplinary strengths and global reach,” Berzock says. In addition to the Herskovits Library, founded in 1954 and today the largest separate Africana collection in existence, the University is home to the nation’s first Program of African Studies. Northwestern is also home to the Center for Scientific Study in the Arts, a collaboration between the University and the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, which works to solve critical global problems through collaborative scholarship and education.
COLLABORATION WITH AFRICAN PARTNERS
From the very first stages of putting the exhibition together, it was critical that Africans’ perspectives helped shape the show, says Berzock, who worked closely with an interdisciplinary advisory team of art history, archaeology, history and comparative literature specialists working in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and Europe.
“This project has been committed to working directly with the nations of Mali, Morocco and Nigeria,” says Berzock. “The development of the exhibition has really been made possible by these partnerships with institutions and individuals in these countries. Together we begin to see a bigger story.”
In planning the exhibition, Kathleen Bickford Berzock, center, curator of Caravans of Gold, met last October with staff from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria, including Omotayo Adeboye, left, curator of the Lagos Museum, and Edith Ochuole Ekunke, right, director of museums. Photo by Justice Nnanna
The show includes works from 32 lending organizations. Notably, most of the medieval objects from Africa are on loan from African institutions, and these are juxtaposed with related objects on loan from North American museums. Many of the objects from Mali, Morocco and Nigeria have never traveled outside of their home countries. Through these rare loans the exhibition brings attention to the importance of cultural heritage protection in Africa.
Yusuf Usman, former director general of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria, a major exhibition partner, believes this collaboration is an essential opportunity for museumgoers and exhibition partners.
“The richness of our collections has made us a very important resource for telling the story of Africa’s significant contribution toward civilization,” Usman says.
Berzock believes that the exhibition will change museumgoers views on Africa. “We hope that Caravans of Gold will encourage people to question their assumptions about Africa and its place in history, upending the hierarchies of the dominant narratives we call ‘truth,’ and in so doing, to replace these stories with a more nuanced view of the world we share now.”
Stephanie Kulke is arts editor in the Office of Global Marketing and Communications.
Catalan Atlas mapmaker Abraham Cresques [page 29] was not merely Majorcan. He was the son of a rabbi and a distinguished Sephardic Jew who lived in Palma. Only four years after his death, there was a massacre of the Jews of Palma (1391), and many hundreds were killed or forcibly converted.
—Norman Miller ’70 Houston, via Northwestern Magazine
You pose a very interesting question. There were indeed multiple sources for copper that were active in the medieval period, between the 8th and the 16th centuries. Materials scientists use a process of isotopic analysis to determine the likely sources of metals. While the testing of copper and copper alloys of objects from Igbo Ukwu and Ife in Nigeria has not been extensive, the testing that has been done suggests that the source of copper for the Tada Seated Figure is Western Europe’s Massif Central. However, at Igbo Ukwu the most likely sources for copper and its alloys were local, though there is also some indication that during the later phases of metal casting at Igbo Ukwu these materials may have been supplemented with copper from sources in the Sahara.
—Kathleen Bickford Berzock, curator, Caravans of Gold: Fragments in Time Evanston, via Northwestern Magazine
I remember fondly my studying African literature with a woman teacher whose husband usually taught the course, but he was in Nigeria that semester. Our class enjoyed the novels by the Nigerian writers Achebe and Soyinka. The “Caravans of Gold” article in the spring issue fascinated me. Something in particular that caught my interest was the statement that the copper from that time in history “was likely sourced in Europe.” Since these ancient Nabataean caravan routes continued to pass through the Middle East (in modern day Israel), could they have not taken copper from the famous mines at Timna from what is now southern Israel? I would hope that someone involved with the article could explain why they feel the copper was sourced in Europe.
—Rita Winslade Steele ’66 New Canaan, Conn., via Northwestern Magazine