World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean Museum Exhibition

Project Directors: Allyson Purpura (Senior Curator & Curator of African Art, Krannert Art Museum) and Sandy Prita Meier (Assistant Professor of Art History & Center for African Studies)

Grant Program: Museums, Libraries, & Cultural Organizations Planning

Years: 20142015

"In fall 2017, Krannert Art Museum (KAM) will open World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean. Co-curated by KAM curator of African Art Dr. Allyson Purpura and University of Illinois Professor of African Art History Dr. Prita Meier, World on the Horizon will be the first major loan exhibition organized in the United States dedicated to the visual arts of this dynamic transoceanic region. The exhibition will travel to at least two subsequent venues in the United States (namely the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution and the Fowler Museum at UCLA,) and possibly to a venue on the Swahili (east African) coast. Quoting literary scholar Shanty Moorthy on the rather unsentimental portrayals of cosmopolitanism in the novels of Zanzibari writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, “world on the horizon” describes an outward-looking ethos—one of encounter and possibility—that linked the diverse peoples of the Indian Ocean across vast expanses of land and sea.  Drawing from both historical and contemporary periods, the exhibition will explore the Swahili coast and western Indian Ocean rim as worlds linked not only by centuries of trade, but also through the flow of aesthetic ideas and practices that have long transcended and flourished between the borders of continents, empires, and nation states. By approaching artworks as ports of entry into these worlds between borders, the exhibition will invite visitors to see Swahili aesthetic forms as itinerant and open to re-visioning across both time and space, and to consider what happens when different systems of signification meet in interstitial zones like the Swahili coast.

"As a university museum that serves not only the campus but also visitors from communities throughout the mid-west, KAM is dedicated to projects that are global in reach, and that broaden our understanding of diverse cultural and artistic achievements. In this vein, World on the Horizon presents an extraordinary opportunity. It will expose visitors to the historical and cultural richness and contemporary relevance of the Indian Ocean as a space that has long connected the peoples of eastern Africa, Europe, and Asia—bringing to light the crucial role of the visual arts as they shape and give creative expression to the enduring relationships of this dynamic, cosmopolitan region. Taking the Swahili coast as its point of departure, the exhibition will call attention to the diverse actors and artists who have contributed to the creation and dissemination of a broader, Indian Ocean aesthetic."

Allyson Purpura and Sandy Prita Meier


An Interview with the Project Directors of "World on the Horizon," Prita Meier and Allyson Purpura

The Past Five Years

World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean Museum Exhibition