Newark Museum offers intimate look at Nigerian royalty

George Osodi's photograph of HRM Pere Donokoromo II, the Pere of Isaba Kingdom, is currently on display at the Newark Museum.

George Osodi’s photograph of HRM Pere Donokoromo II, the Pere of Isaba Kingdom, is currently on display at the Newark Museum.

We’re not used to looking at royalty like this: in photos so large that their subjects seem to be close up, where we can see every line in their faces and every crease in their clothing. That’s part of the fascination of “Royals and Regalia: Inside the Palaces of Nigeria’s Monarchs,” an exhibit that is at the Newark Museum through Aug. 9. Forty large-scale, almost life-sized photos by Lagos-based photographer George Osodi — mostly portraits, but also some candid shots — of Nigerian traditional rulers are displayed.

Traditional rulers are men (and, in relatively few instances, women) who are descended from those who ruled in different parts of Nigeria before the modern era. They are not part of the country’s official government, but are “custodians of cultural heritage and intermediaries between their communities and government leaders,” according to the introduction to the exhibit.

A photograph of HRM Agbogidi Obi James Ikechukwu Anyasi II, Obi of Idumuje Unor.

A photograph of HRM Agbogidi Obi James Ikechukwu Anyasi II, Obi of Idumuje Unor, by George Osodi.

They seem to take their responsibilities seriously; in Osodi’s portraits, they usually stare at the camera somberly. In contrast to their sober personalities, though, their robes and crowns are  vibrantly colorful, and their thrones and furniture are imposingly opulent. (The exhibit also shows examples of the kinds of robes and crowns they wear, as well as items similar to things seen in some photos, such as foot cushions and beaded slippers).

It’s an endlessly fascinating exhibit, and a rare glimpse at a world that few non-Africans even know exists.

Two other current Newark Museum exhibits are also devoted to portraits from other countries. “Rajas, Wrestlers and Rununciants,” located in parts of the museum’s 20 permanent galleries devoted to Asian art, looks at Indian princes, Japanese sumo wrestlers, Tibetan monks and more. And “My Rock Stars,” a video installation and photo series by Morocco-born, U.K.-based Hassan Hajjaj, offers portraits of an international array of musicians (Hajjaj will be at the museum, April 12 at 2 p.m., for a discussion about the exhibit with curator Christa Clarke).

Visit newarkmuseum.org for information.

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