Critics laud art from Africa's ancient Ife Kingdom

Tue Mar 2, 2010 9:11am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A show about the kingdom of Ife, which flourished in what is now Nigeria from the 12th to 15th centuries, underlines why sculptures found last century forced the West to revise its attitudes toward African art.

Long perceived as primitive, the status of the region's culture soared with the discovery in the early 20th century of bronze, copper and terracotta figures which captured the beauty, savagery and pain of Ife society with accuracy and grace.

A 1948 article in the Illustrated London News reproduced by the exhibition was headlined: "African art worthy to rank with the finest works of Italy and Greece" and "Donatellos of medieval Africa."

And critics reviewing the British Museum's "Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa" have said similar things more than 60 years later.

"The faces that gaze coolly past you from these cases are challenging and formidable in their beauty," wrote the Guardian's Jonathan Jones in a five-out-of-five star review.

"And they are disturbing to anyone who has any lingering belief in the uniqueness of European art.

"Sculptors in Ife imitated the human face as accurately and sensitively as any Greek, and matched the Greek feeling for harmony, balance and proportion."

The Telegraph's Richard Dorment calls the sculptures' quality "flabbergasting" and the exhibition "astounding."   Continued...