Wednesday, 30 October 2013

George Osodi: Kings of Nigeria

Whilst I was in Bermondsey, I also caught this show by the Nigerian photographer George Osodi. The Kings of Nigeria documents a variety of Nigeria's regional monarchs whose ancestors owned vast tracts of land, but who were all stripped of their constitutional powers in 1963 when Nigeria became a republic within the British Commonwealth. Despite being stripped of their powers these monarchs still cling to the pomp and ceremony of the royal lifestyle and are still very popular amongst, and feted by their loyal subjects, and act as intermediaries between the people they represent and the Nigerian government. There are parallels in what Osodi and Kehinde Wiley, (the subject of a recent post), are trying to achieve, in that they are documenting, and preserving a peoples and their lifestyle, and how they choose to express themselves in culture, and dress, through portraiture.  

I do not know if it was the photographer George Osodi's intention, but when I look at the two photos above I am reminded of the formal, historical European portraits of royalty, and in particular Velasquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X (below). Their poses, age, extravagant dress, and direct stare out of the picture plane at the viewer lends them an air of gravitas. I think there are distinct similarities, what do you think? 

I like looking at the clothing of the various Kings in these photographs. There are sumptuous taffeta and brocade robes as well as traditional African textile prints. Other photographs from the series (not shown here), depict elaborately beaded necklaces, veils and head wear. I would like to know more about the choices made by the monarchs represented. What influenced their tastes in how they choose to display their wealth? They differ from those of the contemporary monarchs of the West, so were they cultural decisions, or based on geographical necessities? 

Also interesting is the decoration and architecture of the palaces which isn't represented so well in the photographs here, but you get a good glimpse in the exterior shot of the palace in the last photo below.

This was an interesting exhibition as it documents a different experience of wealth and culture to that most of us are used to. Osodi has hit upon a good project and will hopefully capture for posterity all of the remaining Nigerian monarchs.

George Osodi Nigeria Monarchs
Until 3rd November 2013
Bermondsey Projects
46 Willow Walk
London SE1