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Major Exhibition Illuminates Culture and Civilization of Ife, Ancient African City-State
Seated figure. Tada. Late 13th-14th century C.E. Copper. Fundación Marcelino Botín/Museum for African Art. © National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria.
SANTANDER.- Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, a landmark exhibition devoted to the art of Ife, the ancient city-state of the Yoruba people of West Africa (in present-day southwestern Nigeria), begins its international tour at the Fundación Marcelino Botín, in Santander, Spain, on June 17, 2009. The exhibition features more than 100 extraordinary bronze, terra-cotta, and stone sculptures, ranging in date from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries. Many of these have never been on display outside of Nigeria.

Museum for African Art President Elsie McCabe states, “The selection brought together in Dynasty and Divinity is profoundly moving, both in its beauty and by the intense human emotions that motivated Ife artists. In addition, this is the first exhibition outside of Ife itself to focus exclusively on these remarkable works, and thus the first to offer a vivid portrait of the culture of this ancient Yoruba city-state. The exhibition reminds us that the legacy of Ife art extends far beyond the boundaries of Nigeria, continuing to inspire people and cultures across the globe. The Museum for African Art is thrilled to be working in partnership with the Fundación Marcelino Botín on this major project.”

Dynasty and Divinity will remain on view in Santander through August 30, 2009. The next venue will be in Madrid, in September, organized by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. In early 2010, the exhibition will be presented at the British Museum, in London, before beginning its North American tour, details of which will follow.

Paloma Botín, member of the Board of Trustees of the Fundación Marcelino Botín, notes, “The extraordinary cooperation between museums and officials in several countries that made this exhibition possible is a powerful demonstration of how we all benefit by exposure to art from the world’s many diverse cultures. The Fundación Marcelino Botín is delighted to inaugurate the international tour of Dynasty and Divinity, which will open the eyes of so many to the beauty and complexity of the art of Ife.”

Exhibition
Over the course of some four centuries, artists at Ife created sculpture that ranks among the most aesthetically striking and technically sophisticated in the world. Today, the city of Ife is still a spiritual heartland for the 29 million Yoruba people living in Nigeria and countless descendants in the Americas and elsewhere in the world. The present Ooni, or traditional ruler, of Ife, His Royal Majesty Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubase II, heads one of the longest surviving monarchies in the world. Some of the objects in the exhibition, including a copper mask said to represent the fourteenthcentury ruler Obalufon II, were kept in the Ooni’s palace until the 1950s, when they were transferred to the Nigerian Department of Antiquities for purposes of conservation, study, and display.

Dynasty and Divinity reveals the extraordinarily creative range of Ife art through a diversity of objects that includes handsome idealized portrait heads, exquisite miniatures, expressive caricatures of old age, monsters, lively animals, and sculptures showing the impressive regalia worn by Ife’s kings and queens. Together, these illuminate one of the world’s greatest art centers and demonstrate not only the technological sophistication of Ife artists, but also the rich aesthetic language they developed in order to convey cultural concerns.

The sculptures in the exhibition demonstrate the dignity and self-assurance readily associated with the idea of dynasty and the violence and misfortune that could befall human beings. Several superbly crafted copper alloy and terra-cotta heads and figures, for example, are expressive representations of the notion of authority, while startling representations of disease and deformity, rendered in stone and terra-cotta, show the afflictions that may result from both divine and worldly forces.

Among the exhibition’s many masterpieces are a group of life-size copper portrait heads, carved stone animals, and the spectacular seated male figure found in the town of Tada, Nigeria, shown dressed in an elaborate textile. Like many of the objects in the exhibition, the figure, dating from the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, was still part of a shrine in use in the early twentieth century. Two important bronzes from the Kingdom of Benin show the link between Ife and Benin, whose traditional ruler is thought to be descended from the royal Ife dynasty.

All of the objects in Dynasty and Divinity are on loan from the Nigerian National Commission of Museums and Monuments and are a testament to the Nigerian Government’s commitment to preserving and sharing the country’s rich heritage. “The Nigerian Government is very proud to present this exhibition and to be able to share these treasures with people all over the world.” said Dr. Joseph Eborieme, director general of the National Commission of Museums and Monuments.

Fundación Marcelino Botín | Santander | Museum for African Art | Nigeria | Ife |


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