July 25, 2011
Dynasty and Divinity at the IMA

This is a guest post, written by Elizabeth Morton, PhD Visiting Curator of African Art and Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria exhibition. Elizabeth ia an Assistant Professor of Art History at Wabash College.

As visiting curator to “Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria,” I wish to extend an enthusiastic invitation to you to visit wonderful 12th-15th century brass, terracotta and stone masterpieces from Africa. The exhibition is at the Indianapolis Museum of Art from now through Jan. 16, 2012. (View images, here.)

Wunmonije Compound, Ife, Head with crown, 14th-early 15th century C.E. Image courtesy of Fundación Marcelino Botín/Museum for African Art. © National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria.

According to the Yoruba, one of Africa’s largest and most influential people, Ife (pronounced “EE-fay”) is the birthplace of the world. Anyone who studies Africa has seen images of Ife’s spectacular sculptures, much like an Egyptologist will know of King Tut’s tomb or a Chinese historian will be familiar with the terracotta army of Emperor Qin. It is not surprising that these works were compared by London’s Guardian newspaper, which called them all “treasures of the human spirit.”

The striking naturalism of Ife’s art is so unique in African art that the first European to discover it in 1910 speculated that he had found the lost Greek city of Atlantis. Later finds show that the work was created by Africans using very sophisticated techniques, which were developed locally. Also certain is that Ife was a thriving royal city with an important bead making industry and extensive trade networks. Nonetheless, the work is still clouded in mystery—why it was made, who made it, and what purpose it served are some of the questions still unanswered. I find this intriguing and look forward to future discoveries that might hold the key to unlocking some of Ife’s mysteries.

While they are well known, since all of the objects in this exhibition come from the National Museums in Nigeria, few Americans have seen them in person. I can assure you that the experience is unforgettable! I am still amazed to have them here in Indianapolis.

For more information about Dynasty and Divinity, please visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art website: http://www.imamuseum.org/art/exhibitions/ife.

Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria is co-organized by the Museum for African Art, New York, and Fundación Botín, Santander, Spain, in collaboration with the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria. The exhibition has been supported, in part, by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, and by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.

Locally the exhibition is underwritten by a grant from the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation.

Posted In: Miscellaneous

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *