This video says about itself:
West African civilizations
The bronzes of Benin are the outcome of a long tradition of bronze casting which can be traced back over more than two millennia to the ancient Nok people, who lived on the plains of Jos and the Yoruba people who flourished between the 10th and the 19th centuries in the south and west of Nigeria.
From London daily The Morning Star:
British Museum, London WC1
Wednesday 31 March 2010
Imagine what it must have been like to be at the site 70 years ago where these extraordinary sculptures were first unearthed in the Nigerian city of Ife, the centre of Yoruba culture in the west African state.
Apart from the archaeological excitement, the sheer artistic and technical brilliance of these pieces must have dazzled the first people to set eyes on them for centuries, so much so that one observer – doubtless influenced by European notions of “classical” art – described them patronisingly as “un-African.”
While these works have rightly been compared with some of the great achievements of world art – China’s Terracotta Army, the Parthenon in Athens or the mask of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun – their provenance is unequivocally African, rivalling the great Benin sculptures which had such an influential impact on 20th-century artists such as Picasso and Modigliani. The latter was ravished by the works he saw in the Musee de l’Homme in Paris.
From the 12th to the 15th century – when much of European art was confined in an ecclesiastical straitjacket – Ife was a powerful cosmopolitan city and spiritual centre which was linked to the long-distance trade networks on which its wealth was founded.
This in turn enabled the development of artists working in terracotta, stone, brass and copper-alloy who created a style unique in Africa, or anywhere else.
Some of the pieces have a spiritual or ritual function associated with the accession of tribal rulers.
These are splendidly conceived and worked with some of the women’s terracotta heads marked with facial striations, regalia or jewelry depicting the subject’s high rank.
But as striking are the revelatory glimpses of a cross-section of Ife society, young, old, healthy, suffering or serene.
As “living history” these are the works which connect even more across the centuries because they give an intriguing glimpse of the Yoruba world of the period. And they have also become icons of pan-African identity.
The dexterity of these craftsmen and women is truly astinishing.
From stone, through terracotta to copper alloys their sculpting techniques are exquisite and the rendering of detai lin the emotional expression is simply a delight.
The sublime knowledge of complex casting technologies makes one aware too of the former greatness and uniqueness of this thriving, rooted culture.
It’s an unmissable exhibition, not only as an antidote to parochial European notions of art traditions but because the technical brilliance of the work is an astonishing font of creativity which is only just beginning to be explored.
Until 6 June. £8. Details: www.britishmuseum.org or (020) 7323-8299.