Ife: Challenging the Notion of African Primitivism

  • Torso of a King, Ife (Nigeria), early-mid 16th century, copper alloy, H: 14 5/8 inches, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria (Photo by Jason Edward Kaufman © 2011)Chances are that when you think of the term “African art” what comes to mind are figures and face masks carved out of wood.


    Well, you’re not wrong. Most sub-Saharan art fits that description. But an exhibit at theVirginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond reveals another tradition that puts the lie to this stereotype. “Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria” opens our eyes to the astonishingly realistic human figures cast in metal or terra cotta more than half a millennium ago in the ancient West African city-state of Ife (pronounced EE-fay). These elegant and captivating statues change the way we think of Africa and Africans, and for that reason this might be the most important African art exhibition anywhere right now. To continue reading this article...


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