New Exhibition Highlights Mansa Musa, the Richest Man Who Ever Lived

Reproduction of the Catalan Atlas featuring Mansa Musa.
Reproduction of the Catalan Atlas featuring Mansa Musa.
The Block Museum of Art, Bibliothèque nationale de France

Before there was John D. Rockefeller, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos, there was Mansa Musa. Born in the 13th century when West Africa was an abundant source of gold, the king of the Empire of Mali was the richest person in the world, and possibly remains the richest person to ever live. Now, the life of Mansa Musa and the world he lived in are the subject of new exhibits at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

"Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa" highlights parts of Africa prior to European colonization and the Atlantic slave trade. From the 8th to 16th centuries, remarkably pure gold mined in West Africa crossed the Saharan Desert via trade routes and fueled economies in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. West Africa's resources and influence made it one of the wealthiest regions in the world during this period, as evidenced by the artwork and fragments featured in the exhibit. Bronze sculptures, indigo-dyed fabrics, and gold coins are a few of the precious items loaned from Mali, Nigeria, and Morocco.

One highlight of the exhibition, a reproduction of a medieval manuscript called the Catalan Atlas, depicts information about Saharan trade routes, with an illustration of Mansa Musa holding a gold coin featured prominently. The ruler displayed his wealth to the world outside his kingdom when he made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, accompanied by a caravan of slaves and soldiers wearing silk and camels and horses carrying gold. If he was alive today, his net worth would equal an estimated $400 billion.

Despite his status during his life, many people today have never heard of Mansa Musa. "Caravans of Gold" aims to combat modern perceptions of a poor Africa by highlighting the affluence of medieval West Africa in a major museum exhibit for the first time.

“The legacy of medieval trans-Saharan exchange has largely been omitted from Western historical narratives and art histories, and certainly from the way that Africa is presented in art museums,” curator Kathleen Bickford Berzock said in a statement. “'Caravans of Gold’ has been conceived to shine a light on Africa’s pivotal role in world history through the tangible materials that remain.”

"Caravans of Gold" will run at the Block Museum through July 21, 2019 before traveling to the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

A selection of excavated finds from Essouk-Tadmekka, including fragments of glazed ceramics, stone beads, a cowrie shell, a fragment of silk textile, a carved stone torso, and vessel glass fragments.
The Block Museum of Art, Institut des sciences humaines, Mali/Clare Britt

Gold coin of al-Mustans ̇ir Billaˉh (1036–1094 CE), struck in Cairo.
Gold coin of al-Mustans ̇ir Billaˉh (1036–1094 CE), struck in Cairo.
The Block Museum of Art/Bank al-Maghrib, Rabat, Morocco, 521508/Fouad Mahdaoui

Bowl from 11th-century Egypt.
Bowl from 11th-century Egypt.
The Block Museum of Art/The Aga Khan Museum, AKM618

Gold bioconical bead from 10th-11th century Egypt or Syria.
Gold bioconical bead from 10th-11th century Egypt or Syria.
The Block Museum of Art/The Aga Khan Museum, AKM618

10 Amazing Pieces of Peeps Art

“Edgar Allan Peep” by Christian Twamley / Courtesy of the Carroll County Arts Council
“Edgar Allan Peep” by Christian Twamley / Courtesy of the Carroll County Arts Council

Some people paint, some scrapbook, and others create Game of Thrones-inspired dragon sculptures made of 5000 marshmallow Peeps. Candy art may seem like an unusual form of craftsmanship, but it’s more common than you might expect in the lead-up to Easter, when organizations around the country host Peeps art contests.

The aforementioned dragon, as well as the artworks pictured below, were all submitted to the “PEEPshow” contest—a fundraiser for the Carroll County Arts Council in Westminster, Maryland. According to event organizers, the event became the first exhibition of Peeps art when it debuted 12 years ago.

Keep scrolling to see some of the best Peeps sculptures from recent years (2017-2019), and visit the Art Council’s website to see all of this year's participants. (As of Friday afternoon, a Warhol-inspired artwork of "Marilyn Peeproe" appears to be in the lead.)

A space-themed Peeps display
“First Peeps in Space” by International Delight / Courtesy of the Carroll County Arts Council

A samurai sculpture
"Sugar Samurai" by Tristar Martial Arts / Courtesy of the Carroll County Arts Council

The rabbit from Alice in Wonderland
“I’m Late, I’m Late (for the PEEPshow)” by Vivian Davis / Courtesy of the Carroll County Arts Council

A caterpillar sculpture
“The Very Hungry Caterpeeper” by Lia Finch and M / Courtesy of the Carroll County Arts Council

A sculpture inspired by a painting
“Peep with the Pearl Earring” by Sandy Oxx / Courtesy of the Carroll County Arts Council


“Edgar Allan Peep” by Christian Twamley / Courtesy of the Carroll County Arts Council

A Belle sculpture
“Beauty and the Peep” by Candace Birger, Westminster Cake Studio / Courtesy of the Carroll County Arts Council

Fish sculpture
“The Rainbow Fish” by Jen, Justin, Connor, and Jacob Myers / Courtesy of the Carroll County Arts Council

A Gumby sculpture
“Just Gumby” by Sydney Blacksten / Courtesy of the Carroll County Arts Council

A sculpture of a monster
“Percy the Purple Peeple Eater” by the Koontz Family / Courtesy of the Carroll County Arts Council

Artist Turns 5000 Marshmallow Peeps Into a Game of Thrones Dragon

PEEPS® and Vivian Davis
PEEPS® and Vivian Davis

Game of Thrones returns to HBO for its eighth and final season on Sunday, April 14. Instead of worrying about which of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons (if any) will survive to see the end of the series, distract yourself with some playful Peeps art inspired by the creatures.

In 2018, artist Vivian Davis (who's on Instagram as @tutoringart) constructed a Game of Thrones-themed dragon sculpture out of 5000 marshmallow Peeps as part of PEEPshow, an annual Peeps-themed event in Westminster, Maryland. The dragon has her wings outstretched, with a nest of colorful eggs in front of her. It's not quite life-sized, but it is massive—the candy model measures 8.5 feet tall, with a 7-foot wingspan. For comparison, Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth, is 6 feet, 3 inches (or 75 Peeps chicks) tall.

A 'Game of Thrones' dragon made of PEEPS chicks with its wings spread
PEEPS® and Vivian Davis

Easter falls on Sunday, April 21 this year (also the premiere date of Game of Thrones season 8, episode 2) which means that Peeps season is in full swing. For more delicious Peeps content, check out these facts about the cute candy.

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