Gold is one of the rarest and most malleable minerals, qualities that have contributed to its enduring value across time and place. Gold has been shaped by artists; its extraction has altered landscapes, and its discovery has raised nations. The allure of gold is entwined with culture and economies, politics and religion, power and value. On May 9, 2019 The Block Museum of Art’s Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs Kathleen Bickford Berzock moderated a conversation with NYU’s Robyn d’Avignon and Northwestern faculty Rebecca Zorach and Marc Walton—specialists from anthropology, art history, and material science—as they excavated the story of gold’s timeless power. This program was offered in conjunction with the exhibition Caravans of Gold which explores how gold from West Africa fueled a global economy and propelled the movement of things, people and ideas across the Sahara Desert to Europe, the Middle East, and beyond.
Presented by The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in partnership with the Department of Art History and the Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts.
Robyn d’Avignon is Assistant Professor of African History at New York University. An anthropologist and historian by training, Robyn studies scientific research, state formation, and struggles over natural resources in Senegal, Guinea, and Mali. Robyn’s first book manuscript, Shadow Geology, examines the pre-colonial and colonial roots of conflicts over mineral discovery and subterranean property rights in the context of an unfolding gold mining boom in savannah West Africa.
Rebecca Zorach teaches and writes on early modern European art (15th-17th century), contemporary activist art, and art of the 1960s and 1970s. Particular interests include print media, feminist and queer theory, theory of representation, African American artists, and the multiple intersections of art and politics.
Marc Walton is co-Director of the Northwestern University / Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts. At the Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts, he leads multiple scientific research projects to investigate art objects in collaboration with cultural heritage institutions representing a broad spectrum of disciplines (from anthropology to contemporary art) and geographical reach (both U.S. and internationally)