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Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures

September 21, 2011–January 29, 2012

Visual Poems in Praise of an Ever-Present Past: Ife Terracottas

To die is to become deified; no one venerates a living person.

—Yoruba proverb

A second section of the exhibition considers a series of ancient terracotta sculptures created at Ife that are striking for their naturalism. The site of Ile-Ife in present-day southwestern Nigeria was occupied as early as 350 B.C.E. Between 500 and 900 C.E., the city was home to ironworking agriculturalists, and by the eleventh century it had become a major metropolis defined by an orderly arrangement of city walls, streets, stone monuments, shrines, and planned building complexes with multiple interior courtyards, elaborately decorated stone pavements, and altars. In that setting generations of artists produced works of terracotta, cast metal, and stone. The refined modeling of these works attests to their makers' mastery of highly detailed representations. The original impetus for Ife's extensive fired clay corpus remains an enigma. Formally these suggest subtly calibrated efforts to capture nuanced qualities of a spectrum of carefully studied subjects that are ultimately tempered by a transcendent idealization.