A landmark exhibition of African art, Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria presents a glimpse of the extraordinary accomplishments of the legendary royal city-state of the Yoruba people from the 12th-15th centuries. During this period, Ife (pronounced “EE-fay”) was ruled by powerful sacred kings and queens, whose images are captured in stunningly naturalistic cast copper-alloy and terra-cotta heads and figures.

These are among the most celebrated works ever created in Africa and for the first time they have been brought together with other objects from the same era, resulting in a fascinating depiction of Ife. Terra-cotta and brass figures show it to have been a dynamic society where idealized and serene citizens coexisted with their opposites—the diseased, the malformed, the old, and the imprisoned. Trade items illustrate Ife’s ancient prosperity. Its prized glass-beads—worn by royalty—were also exported across north and west Africa. Its metal casting technology was highly advanced, and is represented by works both from Ife and from neighboring regions that adopted the technology. Rare stone sculptures from sacred forest groves also present Ife as a place of vital ritual importance.

Technically and visually the artworks of ancient Ife are among the most remarkable in the world, including near life-size heads and figures of humans. Dynasty and Divinity: Ife in Ancient Nigeria features the artistic accomplishments of this unique civilization in what is today southwestern Nigeria, and examines how factors of dynastic power and divine authority shaped the exceptional arts from Ife.

Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria Exhibition Catalogue

Artists at Ife, the ancient city-state of the Yorbua people of West Africa, created sculpture from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries that ranks among the most aesthetically striking and technically sophisticated in the world. Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria author Henry John Drewal, a noted scholar of Yoruba and African diaspora arts, explores the significance of Ife's stone, terra-cotta and metal sculptures in the context of Yoruba history and culture. In an introductory essay, Enid Schildkrout, an anthropologist who has curated major exhibitions on Africa, shows how this first assemblage of the full range of Ife art gives the most complete portrayal of an ancient African city ever presented in a single exhibition. Purchase the Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria Exhibition Catalogue.

Exhibition Support

Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria is co-organized by the Museum for African Art, New York, and Fundación Botín, Santander, Spain, in collaboration with the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria.

The exhibition has been supported, in part, by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, and by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.

Conservation at the Spanish Patrimony Conservation Centre is supported, in part, by Fundación Botín.

Locally the exhibition is underwritten by a grant from the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation.