Where Gods and Mortals Meet. Urhobo ArtBy Perkins Foss
The Urhobo peoples occupy the western fringe of the Niger River delta in southern Nigeria, an area rich with oil reserves. Since the 1970s, the petroleum industry has brought worldwide wealth and attention to Nigeria, but tragically has also detracted from broad-based economic progress as flow stations, flare-offs, drilling platforms and pipelines have proliferated. As rural economies suffered an inevitable decline, the custom of maintaining traditional Urhobo art has experienced a parallel atrophy. The resultant decline in Urhobo culture has prompted a response among many Urhobo who want to celebrate and preserve their traditions for future generations. The Museum for African Art in New York makes a major contribution to this effort through the presentation of Where Gods and Mortals meet, the first exhibition to showcase Urhobo arts. The exhibition introduces never-before-seen Urhobo art and footage of cultural performances, from yesterday and today. This accompanying catalogue includes approximately 80 works of art: traditional art from the historical period 1850 to 1975, including monumental wood figures, metal and clay sculpture, and masks and costumes with accompanying poetry and song; a small selection of contemporary work by Bruce Onobrakpeya, an Urhobo by birth and one of Africa's foremost artists; plus photos and video footage of extraordinary multimedia masquerades.