Located at the crossroads of Africa and the Indian Ocean, the Swahili coast has been a site of long-distance trade and migration for millennia. World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean is the first major traveling exhibition dedicated to the arts of the Swahili coast and their historically deep and enduring connections to eastern and central Africa, the port towns of the western Indian Ocean, and, given their circulation within imperial networks of trade and diplomacy, to Europe and the eastern seaboard of the United States.

World on the Horizon opened on August 31, 2017 with a gala event that included the Kenyan Ambassador to the United States and the Director General of the National Museums of Kenya - the primary lender of Swahili objects to the exhibition - among KAM's distinguished guests. Artworks from this important Kenyan collection are making their debut appearance to North American audiences.

Since the opening, faculty from across disciplines have integrated the exhibition into their coursework, working with KAM curator Allyson Purpura to develop thematic tie-ins with their varied syllabi. Students have been learning how to use Swahili arts and material culture to explore subjects such as the politics of trade, empire, and cultural exchange across the Indian Ocean, East African history, global Islam, gender and representation, the mobility and blending of visual art forms, and the life histories of objects.

The exhibition features 150 objects from four continents, including intimate pieces of jewelry, impressive architectural elements, exquisitely illuminated Qur'ans, objects of regalia, household furnishings, and photographic portraits. Recognized not only for their artistic excellence, but also for how they visualize wide-reaching networks of mobility and encounter, the objects in World on the Horizon present the Swahili coast as a vibrant site of global cultural convergence, and attest to Africa's contributions to the artistic vocabulary of the wider Indian Ocean world.

In Summer 2018, World on the Horizon will travel to the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., then to the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles in Fall 2018. The accompanying multi-authored publication, co-edited by Meier and Purpura, is the first interdisciplinary study of Swahili visual arts and material culture and their reach beyond the east African coast.

Curators: Allyson Purpura and Prita Meier, assistant professor of Art History at New York University.

World on the Horizon has been made possible in part by a major grant 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, College of Fine + Applied Arts Creative Research Award, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Campus Research Board, and Krannert Art Museum.

*Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition or publication do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Past dates

Download schedule


  • Starting Thursday, August 31st, 2017, repeated every day until Saturday, March 24, 2018 — all day


Krannert Art Museum

500 E. Peabody Dr.
Urbana, IL


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