Friday 9 August 2013

After U.K, Spain, U.S, Ife art extends Dynasty and Divinity to Sweden

By Tajudeen Sowole
Whoever visited the National Museum, Onika, Lagos in the past one year without seeing the exhibition, Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, which closes in the next few days may have to trail the show to Europe for another opportunity to see the gathering of a vast cultural objects.

Scheduled to return to Europe as National Museum of World Culture, Gothenburg, Sweden opens the tour exhibition on 6 September, 2013, the aertefacts are apparently among the fortunate cultural objects of Nigerian origin not under incarceration in foreign museums. Between 2009 and now, Dynasty and Divinity…. has toured Europe and the U.S.
One of the works, Idena (The Gatekeeper), 12th – 15th century Ife.

The tour took off from Fundacion Marcelino Botin, Madrid, Spain in 2009, stopped over at the British Museum as Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures From West Africa and moved to the U,S, where it showed at Museum of Fine Art, Houston; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; and Indianapolis Museum of Fine Art in 2011 though last year.
On this Tuesday morning, at the Onikan museum, the Director-General of National Commission for Museums and Monuments {NCMM}, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman is leading visitors, including the Hon Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, High Chief Edem Duke and the foreign partners from U.S. and Sweden through the one hundred and nine pieces of works soon to be flown to Europe. It’s a familiar terrain: visitors, including the Oni of Ife and his entourage had last year graced the opening of the exhibition. Some of the works, aside the famous pieces such as the Torso Crowned, Obalufon, keep stressing the need to tap from the vastness of the unknown artists the ancient treasures.   

This much, for example, a medium scaled figure Idena (The Gatekeeper), 12th – 15th century Ife, and made of biotite gneiss. The provenance says traces origin the Ore Grove, where it was ‘a guard over the roads leading to the shrine. Interestingly, Idena exudes a modern style in sculpture parlance, even though it was done approximately seven centuries ahead of George Braque and Picasso’s founding of the Cubism movement. 

Shortly before taking guests round the display of the artefacts inside the Onikan museum, Usman had explained that the same set of works shown at the previous venues, are heading to Sweden except one. “Only one is left out, because it’s not strong enough to travel”.

On the relevance of the collaboration with foreign museum, he said it is to expand the scope of the tour ”as a result of success recorded in the previous outings”. Indeed, despite dispute over restitution of looted atefacts of Nigerian origin, exhibitions such as this strengthens the country’s leading status as regards promoting the appreciation of ancient African cultural object abroad. For example, last year, cultural objects of Nigerian origin were chosen to participate in a global gathering titled Bronze, held at Royal Academy, London, U.K. The Bronze gathering featured 150 works of over five thousand years history from three continents.
The preview, basically, Usman stated, was to afford the public see the condition of the works before they leave the country. It’s an important routine “to show transparency and accountability” in preserving the ethics of museum management”, he added.
On a broader scale, the tour, Usman argued offers another opportunity to “build a workable bilateral partnership” with the foreign partners. Parts of the benefits include exchange of ideas, artefacts and capacity building for the NCMM professionals, he added.

In over three years of the tour, Museums for African Art, New York, U.S, has played a prominent role, particularly in the area of enhancing the skills of staffs of NCMM. Also speaking at the preview, Chief Regisrar and Director of Exhibitions for the New York-based museum, Amanda Thompson acknowledged the value of the collaboration. She described it as having brought “the grandeur of Nigerian culture, its history and artistic achievements to the attention of the world”. The care and preservation of the works on tour, Thompson assured, is the “responsibility of the Museum for African Art, New York”.
Chief Registrar and Director of Exhibitions, Museum for African Art, New York, Amanda Thompson (left) and the D-G, NCMM, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman.

Stressing the importance of art from Africa to the museum, Thompson disclosed that the second phase of fundraising has been initiated to build a new facility with the ultimate aim of moving beyond just a museum. “Determined to be more than a museum, it will retain a museum at its core but also expand to include centers for policy, performance and education”.

Enthused by the acceptance of the previous exhibitions, Duke boasted that success of the tour in “Span, Great Britain and U.S. are evidences of our high level of development in the world of Art”. The Swedish wing of the show, he assured strengthen the NCMM’s “partnership and collaboration with other cultural institutions”.

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