Yesterday I went to visit (on the last opening day) the Nigeria. Arts de la vallée de la Bénoué exhibition at the Quai Branly museum (curated by Marla C. Berns, Richard Fardon, Hélène Joubert and Sidney Kasfir). Although I was not at all familiar with this production, I found it fascinating and as usual quite stimulating. 

The first drawing (from the top) is a royal mask-helmet from the Igala of the lower Benue (from the end of the 19th century-beginning of the 20th). It is made out of wood featuring some painted details (as the eyes colored white).

The second is, in my opinion, one of the best pieces of the exhibition. It’s a Mumuye statue of the middle Benue (19th Century). It represents one of those “speaking figures”, that were probably erected outside a hut or inside a building. A medicinal plant’s juice was applied on the statue’s mouth, which would then “speak” to the human being listening to it, as a sort of oracle. 

This sculpture (wood and iron) was part of the collection of the French connoisseur of primal arts Jacques Kerchache (1942-2001), and it was donated in 2005 to the Quai Branly by his wife Anne. One can clearly see how this kind of sculpture was an influence for European artists of the 20th century, such as, most evidently, Alberto Giacometti.

I would like to mention also one thing in the exhibition that I wasn’t able to recall on paper. I was struck by the Super-8 footage documenting the masquerade genres of the middle Benue (these films were shot in 1965 and 1970 by the UCLA art historian Arnold Rubin, and you can see some of them here).

(January 2013)


Sukwava, Schulter-Aufsatzmaske der Mumuye. Nigeria. Sie diente bei kultischen Anlässen für Kriegsvorbereitungen oder den Regenzauber.