Sail across the Indian Ocean in this stunning online exhibit of earliest photographic history of the Swahili Coast

In 2014 the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art began a multi-year series of programming — Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa — highlighting the cross-cultural connections of East and North Africa with those found in the Middle East.

On Saturday Felicia Campbell will present her book “The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia” at a book signing and reception, featuring food from the region, at the museum on Independence Avenue, adjacent to the Smithsonian Castle. And in November the museum will explore the coasts of the Indian Ocean through fashion with a roundtable discussion featuring designs and scholars from East Africa and Oman.

The Smithsonian’s first major online exhibition, the stunning project “Sailors and Daughters: Early Photography and the Indian Ocean World — three years in the making — is part of the Connecting the Gems program. The exhibition was made possible by a $1.8 million gift by the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center in Washington.

Commissioned by the museum and curated by Erin Haney, the online exhibition brings together early photographs, albums and related media from the region to a digital audience; photography was part of the flow of people, ideas and technologies crossing the western Indian Ocean at the turn of the last century.

“The National Museum of African Art is pleased to bring these photographic treasures to a global audience with our first online exhibition,” said Nicole Shivers, the museum’s education specialist for performing arts and project lead. “We hope that it will inspire new reflections on the rich and interconnected artistic cultures of this region, which embraced photography from its very beginnings.”

Highlights of the exhibition include early photographs German photographer Hermann Burchardt took in Oman in 1904, scenes that resonate with early 19th-century photographic views of Zanzibar’s Stone Town and N’Gambo, one of the earliest portraits of a family seated for the camera in east Africa, an albumen print of the boat-cistern built alongside the Beit al-Sahel of the Royal Palace, Zanzibar, c. 1880–1900.

More In Sight:

From Ghana with love: A stunning visual history of the country’s pre- and post-independence era

 Rare portraits reveal Nigeria’s young and fashionable elite on the rise in the 20th century