Empires of Emptiness: Fortresses of the Sahara and the Steppe

Aston Webb Rotunda, University Square - Chancellors Court
Monday 15 February (09:00) - Sunday 15 May 2016 (17:00)
Empires of Emptiness exhibition
Empires of Emptiness exhibition

Empires of Emptiness housed in the Rotunda gallery and throughout the campus grounds, considers how empires expand into deserts and explores these vast spaces of wind, sand and stars. Despite the seemingly limited ‘value’ of arid spaces and the significant logistical difficulties they posed, the conquest of deserts has often mobilised sizeable resources from some of the world’s most notable empires.

Presenting the results of the Birmingham-led research project Outposts of Conquest, this exhibition explores one of the most symbolically charged expressions of imperial control in desert environments: the Russian fortifications in the Central Asian steppe and the vast network of French forts built in an attempt to control the Sahara desert. The comparison shows how these two Christian colonial powers sought to control Muslim and predominantly nomad populations.

The Rotunda exhibition is complemented by an outdoor display across University Square and Chancellors Court. Sahara & the Steppe contextualises the geographical and human environment where these fortresses were built. The vanity of these imperial fortresses, guarding these barren landscapes, appears even more clearly, and the stories behind these sentinels of the void, even more mysterious.

Presented by the Department of Modern Languages in partnership with Research and Cultural Collections – curated by Dr Berny Sèbe

Empires of Emptiness: Fortresses of the Sahara & the Steppe