Newark, New Jersey
Britain consolidated the territories comprising present-day Nigeria in 1914; a newly independent Nigeria abolished monarchies in 1963. Yet the country’s regional kings (and queens) continue to exercise considerable power, if not in an official capacity, over kingdoms from Ife in the Niger Delta to Kano in the dry north.
“Royals and Regalia: Inside the Palaces of Nigeria’s Monarchs” presents Nigerian photographer George Osodi’s sumptuous color portraits of these rulers, whose bearing reflects their traditional position of authority. In a 2012 picture, His Royal Majesty Agbogidi Obi James Ikechukwu Anyasi II, Obi of Idumuje Unor, 88, stares sternly from beneath a beaded crown. His red, green, and yellow patterned robe, printed with a portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth II, appears to be a relic of Nigeria’s colonial past; from beneath it peeks a pair of comfortably worn brown loafers.
In another photo from the same year, HRM Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II, Ooni of Ife, wearing bright pink robes and flanked by five robed attendants and a security guard, reclines on an ornately carved couch. The room’s five air conditioners speak to his status. These and other photographs hint at Nigeria’s income inequality. But they also convey a deep respect for both the monarchs themselves and for their role as custodians of Nigerian culture.
Accompanying Osodi’s show is “My Rock Stars,” a compact exhibition of Moroccan British artist Hassan Hajjaj’s photographs and videos of such international performers as the American musician Marques Toliver. The explicitly syncretist style of Hajjaj’s subjects—often incorporating clothing designed by the artist—reverberates with that of Osodi’s Nigerian sovereigns, who likewise dress to impress and give good attitude.
A version of this story originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 87.