Desert Empires: Wonders to Behold

Two hundred rare objects at the Metropolitan Museum trace the remarkable history and cultural heritage of kingdoms on the rim of the Sahara.

Comments: 16

  1. And a Holland Cutter review is always on my must-read list. I first came across him over twenty years ago through his piece on an exhibition of casta paintings in New York. His reviews are unfailingly enlightening and moving. The present one is no exception.

  2. Breathtaking art! I felt so caught reading this article. Sometimes I am still astonished because of the rich cultural history of Africa. So much history, so much art.. I really wish that there would be more information and reports about the ancient African culture and history. It is such a pity that we will never be able to see how Africa would have developed on its own. It is impossible to understand what was lost because of colonialism.

  3. Remarkable and nicely written but the very caution the author brings forth at the end, do not travel to Mali because of political unrest, is why repatriation of African objects, not to mention the Greek Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum, is such a fraught and controversial issue. Treasures need to be protected and if governments can not be counted on to take on that responsibility, then museums or private ownership must. The National Museum of Brazil lost 95% of its ancestrial African collection (ten times as many slaves were sent to Brazil than the Americas) to a fire because it didn't have the funding to upgrade and put in a water-sprinkling system.The caves of Bymanyon (sic) were destroyed by the Taliban because they were (Buddhist) religious idols. The excuses for not protecting art objects are endless and the answer to returning them to their home or people of origin is yet to be determined. For now, I look forward to viewing the apparently remarkable show at The Met.

  4. The Dignity conveyed by this art! Thank you.

  5. While we view Islamic past from certain intellectual and racial distances , so do Islamic countries eventually .But the later is more often the result of the former . Islam look at their own past through the prism of the western education training and culture . Fundamentalists today might demand the destruction of these sculptures . Pakistan in particular might protests for banning of the exhibition or public exposure .

  6. Thank you for this insightful review, Mr. Cotter. Your writing does more than celebrate artistic beauty. Your work helps make connections to this continent and it's culture which can appear so remote and impenetrable. Africa's contribution to world culture is under examined. This show should help to remedy that.

  7. Thank you for this wonderful review. Mali and other places in the Sahel are on my must-see list, too. I haven't been yet, but will be watching and waiting with great anticipation. See you there, Mr. Cotter.

  8. Totally fascinating and mysterious, the article and photos attracted my attention immediately. I knew there were fascinating archeological discoveries in that part of Africa but never had an opportunity to see them like this and learn something of the cultures. I didn't know they rode horses, for example. And I find he seated couple fascinating and some of the figures make me feel I'm actually seeing people from back then.

  9. Some of my favorite art! Thanks for the review. If only I cold see it!

  10. I crossed the Sahara desert in 1993, pre internet. We didn't know a civil war was taking place, and that the Niger boarder had been closed down. So we ended up on the back of a 10 ton truck (really was like being on a boat in an ocean) transporting dates, and were part of a 10 day caravan crossing from Tamanrasset Algeria to across the border of Mali to Gao. Made it, but barely, and went on to see the incredible Mosque in Djenne, the night markets of the Bandiagara cliffs and Dogon villages. I hope to go back someday too. Thanks for the article, can't wait to see the show.

  11. Thanks so much for this beautiful piece. In my eight years in Níger, including two as a Peace Corps forestry volunteer, I learned little about its art, but will forever cherish memories of those with whom I lived and worked. Grateful for your sharing this softer, more passionate image of the Sahel.

  12. Fabulous pieces and article. However the Rao pectoral is not filigreed. Looks more like granulation in that photo. Thank you for bringing all of this Sahel art to our attention. It deserves preservation and admiration, not looting. Is UNESCO involved?

  13. I was in Djenne a decade ago and was so enthusiastic about returning, amazing country. Sadly the situation in Mali means the wait continues...but in the meanwhile at least we have this.

  14. This is some of my favorite art in the world. By chance I took in college an African art history course and I truly think that it changed my life. It certainly changed my perspective about ... everything actually. It was one of those "useless" liberal arts courses that proved the best, most enriching, most engrossing and life changing of all. Yes, I got skills from that course, I say to all parents worried about their kids getting jobs. Those skills I use today. When I go to the Met I always go through the African art section and particularly love the Dogon art. The lines are so clean, forceful, inspiring. Thank you for this lovely write-up of what is probably a great show.

  15. @Alive and Well, ditto!

  16. Similarly, the kingdom of Kush, populated by black Africans, rose to prominence and is responsible for the black pharaohs of Egypt. In wonder how much more there is buried under the sand or jungle of ancient empires. It should not be surprising, when you consider that ancient man originated in Africa, before spreading to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, tribal divisions there still run deep, holding back the human potential.