Virtual Exhibition: Black Monuments Matter – A Virtual Exhibition of Sub-Saharan Architecture

Please visit the exhibition website for more information via the link below:

Organisers: Professor Stephane Pradines and Professor (emeritus) Dr. Heinz Rüther 
The Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations and the Zamani Project at the University of Cape Town are pleased to present the online exhibition “Black Monuments Matter”. 

Black Monuments Matter recognises and highlights African contributions to world history by exhibiting World Heritage Monuments and architectural treasures from Sub-Saharan Africa. 

In doing so, this exhibition sweeps away ideas based on racist theories and hopes to contribute to both awareness of African identity and pride of African Heritage. The exhibition is inspired by the “Black History Month” in the United Kingdom. 

Black monuments matter and Black cultures matter. Sites and monuments are physical representations of histories, heritage, and developments in society. This exhibition aims to display the diversity and richness of African cultures as part of world history through the study of African Monuments; bringing awareness and pride of African roots and contributions to other cultures. 

African cultures suffered extensively from slavery from the 16th to the 19th Century, and during the acceleration of European colonisation through the 19th and early 20th Century. Black Monuments Matter aspires to create links to living African heritage by making it visible, assessable, and known to as many people as possible. 

In general, we would like to raise awareness of and respect towards Black cultures and Africa’s past to a larger audience. At the Aga Khan University, the University of Cape Town and the Zamani Project, we believe in the relevance and knowledge of cultures, and the importance of education towards its understanding and appreciation. 

Through an approach founded on the latest knowledge and technology, this online exhibition offers visitors an opportunity to learn more about the glorious monuments and sites of African heritage and black cultures across Sub Saharan Africa. 

The African continent has numerous sites and monuments of historic and cultural importance, and our exhibition showcases some of its diversity and richness. From the Pyramids of Sudan, the Great Mosque of Timbuktu, to the Swahili cities of East Africa, each site is presented in a virtual room and is introduced by short texts written by African scholars. 

Many of Africa’s monuments are protected by UNESCO and have been given world heritage status. They are also protected and supported by national heritage authorities and by the support of international organisations such as the World Monument Fund and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. 

Our hope is that visitors to this exhibition will recognise and support the work of national and international organisations committed to the support of African heritage. 

All the documentation presented in the exhibition are the result of many years of dedicated work by the Zamani team from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.  

Commentary on the Exhibition:

Dodé Houéhounha, African World Heritage Specialist 
Bryan Koffi Opoby, Junior African World Heritage Specialist

Patiently but surely, we make our way. As protests spread across the globe against systemic racism, police brutality, and injustice, 2020 turned out to be an exceptional year to reflect on what can be done to empower Black lives. This desire to correct an outdated and racially targeted system applies to many different areas such as education systems, employment opportunities, health care, and also, to the history and richness of the African continent. 

In “Black Monuments Matter”, as in the expression “Black Lives Matter”, it is the philosophical precision that counts. “To matter” is of course about the importance of social recognition, but what stands out in these words is surely the refusal of discrimination and the desire for equality. The desire of a community to rediscover, make known, and have its history and heritage recognised. It is this dynamic that currently drives the African heritage sector. 

Indeed, African experts are today multiplying actions in order to preserve and promote a heritage that is unfortunately endangered. Over the last few years, many actions have been carried out with the aim of continuously improving the conservation and management of African World Heritage sites. There are numerous examples testifying to the successes of recent years. 

The creation in 2006 of the African World Heritage Fund, whose objective is to provide financial and technical support for the effective conservation and protection of cultural and natural heritage, is one such example. This is also reflected in the growing involvement of motivated young people, in the increased participation of schools, and the growing number of training courses accessible in the heritage field. We should also note the increase in international funding collaborations, particularly in terms of capacity building workshops for site managers and, above all, in assistance provided to strengthen nomination files for the inscription of sites on the World Heritage List. These actions, taken collaboratively by a wide range of heritage actors, bear witness to the current dynamic. 

In this virtual exhibition, you will be guided through some of Africa’s World Heritage sites. The Old Towns of Djenné, inscribed in 1988 are an exceptional witness to the pre-Islamic civilizations of the inland Delta of the Niger, and an outstanding example of an architectural group of buildings that illustrate a significant historic period. The Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela represent a unique artistic achievement, in size and the variety and boldness of their forms. It is also an exceptional testimony to the medieval and post-medieval civilization of Ethiopia. As for the Asante Traditional Buildings, they are the last remaining testimony of the unique architectural style of the great Asante Kingdom. 
The diversity of the sites that are here presented is a reflection of the diversity of African heritage. With this exhibition, you will discover the richness and variety of a heritage that transcends time, ages and eras. 

In this exceptional context of health crisis, where these sites of exceptional value are now hardly accessible, it is this form of digital initiative that keeps our heritage alive. The use of new technologies to promote our incredible heritage and allow us to make it accessible to as many people as possible. It is only this way, by multiplying actions for its promotion and accessibility, that we will succeed in showing, raising awareness and educating people about the wealth of African history and heritage. This is a task that requires a lot of initiative yet, patiently but surely, we will make our way.


Published by Ellie Wilson

Ellie Wilson holds a First Class Honours in the History of Art from the University of Bristol, with a particular focus on Medieval Florence. In 2020 she achieved a Distinction in her MA at The Courtauld Institute of Art, where she specialised in the art and architecture of Medieval England under the supervision of Dr Tom Nickson. Her dissertation focussed on an alabaster altarpiece, and its relationship with the cult of St Thomas Becket in France and the Chartreuse de Vauvert. Her current research focusses on the artistic patronage of London’s Livery Companies immediately pre and post-Reformation. Ellie will begin a PhD at the University of York in Autumn 2021 with a WRoCAH studentship, under the supervision of Professor Tim Ayers and Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein.

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