Benin Kingdom Leadership Regalia

by Kathy Curnow
Cleveland State University

Memorial sculpture, Benin KingdomNigeria, 1994. Photo by Kathy Curnow.


The sculpture continues the kingdom's centuries-long tradition of displaying works for prestige, historical, and political purposes, although earlier works were produced by the still-functioning palace guilds.  Academically-trained artists, many of whom emerged from the University of Benin or Auchi Polytechnic's programs, create the new public sculpture.  While this example employs realistic body proportion, naturalistic features, and a sense of emotion and movement, other sculptures can be abstract or non-objective.  None imitate the style of the guilds, though their subject matter is often drawn from history and traditional culture. One carryover can, however, be seen here: the Benin warrior is shown in a still, composed manner in contrast to the activity of his foes.  The statue is a reminder that 1897's events have forever changed Benin; aside from the many political shifts, artistic patronage, training and tastes follow new models.