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Nigerian Art from the University Museum

February 21–April 18, 1982

The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, began acquiring African art in the last decade of the 19th century and by now has one of the largest collections in the United States. The holdings from Nigeria are outstanding, including over 150 Benin bronzes and ivories (dating from the 15th to 19th centuries) as well as wooden masks and figures, textiles and wearing apparel, pottery and baskets, and musical instruments. The twenty-seven sculptures that appear in this exhibition of Nigerian Art from the University Museum constitute some of the finest objects in the collection. They are the creations of a number of Nigerian peoples, some of whom are the descendants of those artists who created the Treasures of Ancient Nigeria. While the bronzes and ivories from the Treasures of Ancient Nigeria show are almost entirely archaeological and date to the earliest known periods of African sculpture, the pieces from the University Museum collection are from more recent times--the 19th and 20th centuries--and reflect the many changes and developments in the Nigerian artistic heritage. Since many of these sculptures are still in use today in religious rituals and personal display, it is possible to discover their function and meaning. The twenty-seven pieces in this exhibition range from items decorated for the sheer display of beauty (such as the Igbo anklet, the Benin comb, or the Nupe door) to objects essential to the well-being of the community. For example, the Gelede masks flatter and cajole potential witches in order to ensure that they use their powers to increase fertility and health in the community. The complementary exhibition was made possible through the invaluable assistance of Paula Ben-Amos of the University Museum.

Main Building


Peter Sutton

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