Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria
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The ancient art of Ife is explored in this landmark exhibition, which features unprecedented loans from national collections in Nigeria.
Ife, located 150 miles from Lagos in southwestern Nigeria, was the ancient capital of the Yoruba people and a major centre of artistic production beginning in the 11th century.
Sculptures produced in this region are known for their marked realism and technical sophistication unlike most ancient African art, which is characterised by its abstract forms.
The difference is so striking that when ancient Ife art was introduced to the west in the early 20th century some scholars saw Greek and Roman parallels and assumed that the works must have been imported from the Mediterranean.
This is the first significant display of Ife art staged outside Nigeria and contains 109 bronze, stone, terracotta and glass pieces dating from the 12th to 15th centuries that vary in size from life-size figures to miniatures.
The objects range from idealised portrait heads and realistic animals to caricatures of old age and depictions of the devastating effects of disease.
The works are juxtaposed to show that the Yoruba celebrated life and death, fortune and misfortune. Works from other West African civilisations such as those from Ghana, Mali and Songhai provide a regional context.
One of the star pieces of the exhibition is a beautifully crafted copper mask of the deity Obalufon, which scholars suggest might have been used to conceal the death of the ruler until a suitable successor could be found.
The show, curated by Enid Schildkrout, director of exhibitions and publications at the Museum for African Art, New York, travels to Madrid’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, the British Museum, London, and the US in 2010. E.S.