The Swahili Coast, where Africa and the Indian Ocean intersect, has been a vibrant arena of global cultural convergence for more than a millennium. For centuries, people have journeyed across the Indian Ocean from the Arabian Peninsula, South Asia, Europe, and many regions of Africa to this littoral region of East Africa. Some settled in the region’s flourishing port towns, while others moved many times with the seasonal shifts of the monsoon winds. The confluence of seafarers, migrants, and locals gave rise to a vibrant material and artistic heritage of astounding diversity and connectivity. Swahili art objects, architecture, and ornaments have been shaped by mobilities across great distances, the formation of new empires, and the making and unmaking of communities and social identities. This talk explores Swahili arts through the lenses of encounter, trade, and imperialism while considering the challenges of making sense of artworks that refuse to be anchored to the boundaries of land and nation-states.
Prita Meier (Ph.D., Harvard University) is a tenured Associate Professor of Africanist Art History in the Department of Art History and Institute of Fine Arts. Her research focuses on the arts and architectures of east African port cities and histories of transcontinental exchange and conflict. She is the author of Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere (Indiana University Press, 2016) and has publications in the Art Bulletin, Art History, African Arts, Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Artforum, and Arab Studies Journal, and more. She is currently working on a new book about the social and aesthetic history of photography in Zanzibar and Mombasa.
Admission to the galleries is provided with the purchase of a Saturday University ticket. General admission tickets are $15, $8 for members, and $10 for students with ID.
Hair comb, about 1800. From Swahili coast of eastern Africa. Courtesy of Minneapolis Museum of Art