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Museum Announces U.S. Tour of "Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria" Exhibition
A woman looks at the mask 'Obalufon', dated back to the 14th century, as she visits the exhibition 'Dynasty and Divinity Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria' during its presentation at the Marcelino Botin Foundation gallery in Santander, Spain, 16 June 2009. EPA/ESTEBAN COBO.
NEW YORK, NY.- The Museum for African Art, New York, has announced the U.S. tour of the important exhibition Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria. Devoted to the art of Ife, the ancient city-state of the Yoruba people of West Africa (in present-day southwestern Nigeria), Dynasty and Divinity has been co-organized by the Fundación Marcelino Botín and the Museum, in collaboration with the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments. The exhibition (with the title Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa) is on view through June 6, 2010, at the British Museum, London, where it has received widespread critical and public acclaim. Following its presentation there, it will travel to the U.S., opening at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, on September 19, 2010, and concluding its tour in November 2011 at the Museum for African Art, where it will be among the inaugural exhibitions in the Museum’s new building, which opens in April of that year.

Dynasty and Divinity features more than 100 extraordinary bronze, terra-cotta, and stone sculptures, ranging in date from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries, many of which have never been on display outside of Nigeria. All of the objects in the exhibition are on loan from the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

Museum for African Art President Elsie McCabe Thompson 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, and is delighted to continue the exhibition’s tour in the United States.”

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, Olabuse 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 fourteenth-century 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.

U.S. Tour Schedule
Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria opened at the Fundación Marcelino Botín, in Santander, Spain, in June 2009, and traveled to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid prior to its presentation at the British Museum. The exhibition’s U.S. tour is as follows:

• September 19, 2010 – January 9, 2011: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
• February 19 – May 22, 2011: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
• July 10 – October 9, 2011: Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
• November 11, 2011 – March 4, 2012: Museum for African Art, New York, NY

The Museum for African Art | Elsie McCabe Thompson | "Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria" |




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