Tuesday, 23 February 2010
British Museum - Ife African bronzes
On 4th March a new exhibition opens at the British Museum, Kingdom of Ife: sculptures from West Africa. Ife was a powerful nation that existed in what is now Nigeria 700 years ago. This culture produced bronze sculptures so beautiful and naturalistic that they seem alive. Indeed, their haunting authority has meant they were revered as icons by the Yoruba people.
The story of Ife is shrouded in mystery. There were several extremely advanced civilizations in Africa before the European era, quite unknown to the west, even now. Sculptures like these were made by people with sophisticated artistic values, technology and the means to invest in objects like these. As a small child I used to dream about the "lost kingdoms" of Africa, albeit seen through the distorted image of Rider Haggard and Tarzan comics. The reality of places like Ife, Benin, Zimbabwe, and Nubia is even more remarkable.
And if the story of Ife is amazing, so is the story of how these bronzes ended up in the British Museum. Looted from the Yoruba people by adventurers, real-life Indiana Jones. Even Wole Soyinka, who won the Nobel Prize, gets pulled into a smash and grab raid to return a stolen bronze to Africa. This exhibition should be exciting, an antidote to the omnipotence of the west. HERE is an extremely well written, inspiring article from the Financial Times. Great photos ! PLEASE note, there's another post on this subject HERE. Although this is a classical music site, it's got a lot on African culture and history (and other art exhibitions eg baroque art V&A)