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Nigeria on My Mind

This month marks 50 years of Nigerian independence from British rule, prompting my reflections on the great contributions this country has made to world art. The ancient arts of present-day Nigeria have been uncovered only over the course of the past century. They include sub-Saharan Africa’s oldest sculptural tradition – figurative works created between 500 BC and 200 AD in the vicinity of Nok, a village in the Jos Plateau region of Nigeria. Also, between the 12th to 15th centuries, artists working in the powerful city-state of Ile-Ife (the ancestral homeland of the Yoruba culture) produced spectacular naturalistic sculptures in metal and terracotta. Some of these treasures are now on view at the MFA Houston, which is hosting Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, organized by the Museum for African Art in New York and features important works from Nigerian museums, rarely seen outside of Nigeria.

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Nigeria has also produced remarkable artists in the 20th century. We are fortunate to have some of their work on view in the permanent galleries of African art at the Newark Museum. One such artist is the celebrated master sculptor Bamgboye of Odo-Owa (ca. 1893-1978), who carved the towering Epa headdress  that greets visitors as they enter the African art galleries. Bamgboye created the headdress to be worn during Epa, an annual celebration of cultural renewal among northeastern Yoruba peoples. It’s a sculptural tour-de-force, a highly detailed masterwork that showcases the technical virtuosity that earned Bamgboye his reputation as the foremost sculptor of Epa headdresses.

Nigeria’s contemporary artists are also well represented in the Museum. The centerpiece of our permanent gallery is Naked Gelede, a towering welded metal sculpture by Sokari Douglas Camp, a Nigerian artist now living in London.  Present Tense, our recently opened gallery devoted to the museum’s collection of contemporary African art, features work by Olu Amoda made from discarded metal. They evoke the fashionable world of high society in Lagos, where the artist is based, while commenting on conspicuous consumption. The Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, who has lived and worked in Nigeria for three decades, is represented by Lace People (1992) as well as his more recent work, Many Came Back (2005), a shimmering “wall cloth” made from discarded bottle caps. And finally, if you haven’t had a chance to see the major sculptural installation by Nigerian/British artist Yinka Shonibare, Party Time: Re-Imagine America, you have less than a month! It’s been extended and will be on view in the Museum’s Victorian-era Ballantine House through November 7th. For a sneak preview, take a look at our podcast:

October 18, 2010 at 12:25 pm Leave a comment

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