National Treasures: The Mapungubwe Gold Collection

African Gold! The ring of this echoes across the continent with stories, characters and myths, which defines the mystique of this magical and precious metal. Legends of King Solomon’s mines, the Queen of Sheba, Prester John, Mansa Musa, and the civilizations of Great Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe find resonance with these narratives merging fact with fiction. Carried through the Sahara, down the Nile via the Mediterranean sea and across the vast East Coast Indian Ocean trade network, African gold became the currency of kings and the symbol of power and wealth the world over.

Positioned at the south of the continent where the Limpopo River and Shashe River’s confluence bordered by the countries of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe-a stark reminder of a colonial legacy superimposed upon an ancient southern African civilization - the gold of Mapungubwe was unearthed in 1933 on the summit of Mapungubwe hill.

Evidence of extensive international trade and kingship found at this sacred site is manifested in the material found there which includes gold artefacts which are now exhibited in the Javett Art Centre-UP in the imposing Gold of Africa gallery. This glimpse into thousands of years of ancient African creativity is the catalyst for the Javett Art Centre-UP’s raison d’être, which is to position itself centrally within the exploration of the art of Africa on the continent, the diaspora and within the international community.

The collection is joined by the Anglo Gold Barbier-Mueller collection of West African gold exhibited together in a spectacular juxtaposition and fusion of the Gold of Africa. The design and craftsmanship evident in these unique and fascinating collections demonstrates a powerful example of an African aesthetic which forms part of a collective African signature. It is this signature to which the Javett Art Centre-UP is dedicated to following, and by presenting exhibitions, performances and interdisciplinary events, will, through its education and public programs seek to identify what the art of Africa is, and what this represents.

Metaphorically and literally, the Javett Art Centre-UP bridges the gap between the University and the public having one foot in the street, and the other on the Hatfield campus. Anchored in an academic foundation and with a mission to engage with a visiting public to demystify the museum space and content, the Gold of Africa is a symbol of this quest following the trajectory of the art of Africa and its power across the world.

This publication containing Dr. Sian Tiley-Nel’s long-term scholarly and curatorial research provides a vivid picture of this power exploring as it does the indigenous craftsmanship and techniques employed by the artisans of Mapungubwe.

Christopher Till: Founding Director