What? Well before the Renaissance, masterful sculptures Illuminated the Ancient Kingdom of Nigeria? That’s not how you think of ancient African Art? Time to rethink what you believe . . . by taking in the newest exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, opening Sunday, 9/19. Houston Museums Examiner received a sneak peak on Thursday morning, 9/16, before the members’ preview on Friday, 9/17, and the public opening on Sunday, 9/19, to see a side of African Art unlike anything revealed in the U.S. previously.
Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria features more than 100 extraordinary copper, terra cotta, and stone sculptures that were uncovered in the 1910s and 1930s in present-day Southwest Nigeria. Previously on view at the British Museum, in London, the Ife artworks stand, as London’s Guardian commented, ―with the Terracotta Army, the Parthenon or the mask of Tutankhamen as treasures of the human spirit‖; London’s Times declared the exhibition a ―once-in-a-lifetime, revolutionary event. This exhibition is unlike any Africian Art exhibition you’ve ever seen. Think of it akin to treasures of ancient Greece and Rome in terms of the artistic skills and keen attention to detail. You’ll leave knowing you’ve broaded your view of the art and cultures of Africa.
Made between the 9th and 15th centuries in Ife—an ancient city-state and center of trade—these sculptures show highly developed techniques in brass- and copper casting; sensitive, lifelike, naturalistic rendering; and expert use of balance and proportion. The many life-size, sculpted heads seem to capture the confidence and serene spirit of the ancient rulers of Ife, the sacred center of all creation according to legend. This is the first time that many of the artworks can be seen outside of Nigeria.
Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria makes its U.S. debut at the MFA Houston September 19, 2010 through January 9, 2011. The exhibition has been organized by the Museum for African Art, New York, and the Fundación Marcelino Botín, in Santander, Spain, in collaboration with the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, which has loaned all of the objects on view.
“This is the first exhibition of Ife art to reach the United States, and Houston is proud to be the venue for its debut,” said Dr. Peter C. Marzio, MFAH director. “Ife artists possessed an advanced understanding of human anatomy, proportion, and metal-casting, creating artwork that is stylistically similar to European classical art, yet gorgeously original. Remarkably, the Ife people were creating these sculptures before the European Renaissance began.”
“These sculptures were first excavated in 1910, and more were discovered in 1938 when builders laying the foundation of a house in Nigeria struck these cast-metal heads buried in the earth,” said Frances Marzio, MFAH curator of the Glassell Collections and organizer of Dynasty and Divinity in Houston. ―Rarely seen outside of Nigeria, these ancient, lifelike sculptures are a revelation, enriching and expanding our vision of African art.”
So, mark you calendar and remember, the MFAH is free to school children who bring their public library card on Saturdays and Sundays, free to everyone on Thursday evenings, and free to everyone on the first Sunday of each month.