Step Aside Kehinde Wiley, These Portraits of Nigerian Royalty at the Newark Museum Are the Real Deal

George Osodi, HRM Agbogidi Obi James Ikechukwu Anyasi II, Obi of Idumuje Unor (2012). Photo: George Osodi, courtesy the Newark Museum.
George Osodi, HRM Agbogidi Obi James Ikechukwu Anyasi II, Obi of Idumuje Unor (2012). Photo: George Osodi, courtesy the Newark Museum.

Catch a glimpse of Nigerian royalty at the Newark Museum, now showing 40 near-life-size color portraits from photographer George Osodi.

Last year, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., offered a historical look at the country’s royal court with five decades worth of photos taken by Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge (see See Solomon Osagie Alonge’s Rare Photographs of Nigerian Royal Court). For “Royals and Regalia: Inside the Palaces of Nigeria’s Monarchs,” the Newark Museum is instead turning the spotlight on the country’s modern-day monarchies.

The new photo series by Osodi, making its US debut, is displayed with objects from the museum’s collection of Nigerian clothing and regalia. Highlights will include an elaborately beaded velvet ceremonial robe from a 1959 investiture, and a colonially-inspired crown shaped like a British barrister’s wig in an appropriation of symbols of foreign power.

Where the Smithsonian exhibition marked the 100th birthday of the contemporary nation of Nigeria, Osodi’s work celebrates 20 of the country’s traditional monarchs, who continue to play an important role in the country’s politics and culture despite their lack of constitutional powers.

Osodi, like Kehinde Wiley (see Kehinde Wiley’s New Takes on Old Masters Get Brooklyn Museum Survey), draws on the traditions of European royal portrait painting. Unlike Wiley, however, Osodi photographs real-life royals in their own attire. Accordingly, the portraits are the very picture of power and wealth, their subjects opulently dressed and accessorized, posing in lavish throne rooms or other luxurious settings.

“The idea behind this project is to travel around this diverse country and go beyond the portraits to explore the subjects’ environments—being the custodians of our cultural heritage and peace makers—exploring their architecture and fashion with the view to showcase and celebrate them and to mirror the country’s great culture through their personalities,” said the artist in a statement. “I want to document Africa from an African perspective.”

“Royals and Regalia: Inside the Palaces of Nigeria’s Monarchs” is on view at the Newark Museum through August 9, 2015.


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