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Exhibitions/ Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara

Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara

At The Met Fifth Avenue
January 30–October 26, 2020

Exhibition Catalogue

Spanning more than 1,300 years, this richly illustrated volume is the first to present a comprehensive overview of the Sahel's diverse cultural traditions.

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Exhibition Overview

From the first millennium, the western Sahel—a vast region in Africa just south of the Sahara Desert that spans what is today Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger—was the birthplace of a succession of influential polities. Fueled by a network of global trade routes extending across the region, the empires of Ghana (300–1200), Mali (1230–1600), Songhay (1464–1591), and Segu (1640–1861) cultivated an enormously rich material culture.

Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara is the first exhibition of its kind to trace the legacy of those mighty states and what they produced in the visual arts. The presentation brings into focus transformative developments—such as the rise and fall of political dynasties, and the arrival of Islam—through some two hundred objects, including sculptures in wood, stone, fired clay, and bronze; objects in gold and cast metal; woven and dyed textiles; and illuminated manuscripts.

Highlights include loans from the region's national collections, such as a magnificent ancient terracotta equestrian figure (third through eleventh century) from the Institut de Recherches en Sciences Humaines, University of Niamey, Niger; and a dazzling twelfth-century gold pectoral that is a Senegalese national treasure, from the Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire, in Dakar.

The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue bring together an array of cross-disciplinary perspectives on the material, with contributions from historians specializing in oral traditions and Islam, archaeologists, philosophers, and art historians.

"A wonder to behold." —New York Times

"Tells the epic story of a network of African cultures that flourished . . . in the vast region that now encompasses Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal." —New Yorker

"An important step towards building a more comprehensive and accurate view of world history." —Quartz

"[Shows] the full range of creative expression that emerged from centuries of exchange and development among these empires." —Washington Post

The exhibition is made possible by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund, the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Laura G. & James J. Ross, and The International Council of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The catalogue is made possible in part by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The MCS Endowment Fund.

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in

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A still from a film depicting four women seated in a circle

In this series, hear from an archaeologist, filmmakers, and others about the history of the Sahel and its cultural significance.

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Exhibition Objects

Sahel's Musical Traditions

Equestrian, 19th–20th century. Bamana peoples. Mali, Ouassabo, Bougouni District. Wood, iron, 51 inches. Private collection.