A renaissance is currently taking place in the African art world, and its appreciation – across various mediums – is growing. One of the latest examples of this is Nigerian photographer George Osodi’s new exhibition ’Nigerian Monarchs – The Custodians of Peace and Cultural Heritage’, curated by Ziggi Golding for the Bermondsey Projects in London.
For this project, Osodi travelled the length and breadth of Nigeria, gaining access to palaces and throne rooms and taking photographs of its various kings and traditional rulers.
The exhibition will feature a collection of 40 of these portraits featuring 20 kings in what Osodi hopes will be the first of a series displaying 100 kings in total once completed.
Known for its vast ethnic diversity and rich cultural heritage, Nigeria was once a collection of large city states or empires. Before defined borders, these empires included the likes of the Sokoto caliphate – which at its zenith included over 30 different emirates and stretched from modern day Burkina Faso to Cameroon – and the Oyo Empire, famed for its Yoruba bronze sculptures.
These empires, like all other city states and confederacies, succumbed to the colonial might of Britain in the late 19th century. And by 1914, nearly a century ago now, the many ethnic groups within the newly defined borders became bound together in an area named after the river that separated them, The Niger.
Today the titles of Nigerian monarchs are ceremonial; the constitution does not afford them any unique authority. Yet their symbolic importance has remained firm. They are seen, as the title of Osodi’s exhibition puts it, as ‘The Custodians of Peace and Cultural Heritage’.
The subject of Osodi’s exhibition brings to our attention a history that refuses to be forgotten: a multitude of cultures that flourished parallel to the empires of Europe, and their proud kings.
Nigerian Monarchs – The Custodians of Peace and Cultural Heritage is taking place at Bermondsey Projects, 46 Willow Walk, London SE1 5SF from 11th October to 3rd November, 2013. Hours: 1pm-6pm Thursday-Sunday, otherwise by appointment.
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