"GOLD WORK: TECHNIQUES AND EXCHANGE ACROSS THE SAHARA"
Sarah Guérin, University of Pennsylvania
Part of the Silsila Fall 2020 Lecture Series, Islam in Africa: Material Histories
Gold bullion, as either raw dust or cast ingots, was the main driver of trans-Saharan trade from the eighth to the sixteenth centuries. Collected at several river sites across West Africa, the incorruptible material allowed the medieval empires of North Africa to mint their exceptionally fine gold coinages. Yet, in addition to its role as a monetary instrument, gold was also worked into exquisite pieces of fine jewelry, although extant pieces are exceptionally rare. The fragmentary remains of a thriving tradition of goldsmith work south of the Sahara alludes to the networks of technical practice that existed within and across the desert, linking West Africa to the Mediterranean system.
Sarah Guérin teaches Western Medieval Art and Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, where she has taught since 2016. Her research focusses on the materials of medieval art, and the systems of exchange that contribute both to provisioning those material and the dissemination of techniques. Since 2012 she has contributed to the exhibition project, Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time, which will be on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art from April to November 2020.