Statement Art

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

NigeriaBenin Kingdom peoples

Plaque

Bronze

H. 40 cm (15 3/4")

Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, with funds from Mr. and Mrs. James A. Beresford, 72.435

This Benin palace wall ornament is an example of statement art. Cast by the lost-wax process, it once adorned the palace walls of a Benin king prior to 1897 when the palace was looted and burned by British authorities during a confrontation. The iconography of the plaque shows the king in full regalia flanked by two attendants. The formal, hierarchical composition of the personages reflects the centrality of the king himself, who was considered to be divine. His legs in the form of mudfish indicate his superhuman attributes, for this animal can transcend boundaries of water in the same way that a king navigates between human and spiritual realms.