Continuity and Renewal in Urhobo Art



April 9  – August 16, 2004




Perkins Foss, Ph. D.

Guest Curator






This exhibition is supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Press Release


February 5, 2004, New York, NY – The Museum for African Art opens its new exhibition, Where Gods and Mortals Meet: Continuity and Renewal in Urhobo Art, displayed in the main Museum Gallery from April 9, 2004 until August 16, 2004.  Curated by Dr. Perkins Foss, this   is the first exhibition to focus exclusively on the art and culture of the Urhobo people.  This exhibit will introduce many artworks never before seen in New York including photographs, video and audio recordings of cultural performances, from yesterday and today.


Where Gods and Mortals Meet addresses the effort to preserve culture, religion and art in the face of modernization and raises issues of global importance.  This exhibition is an attempt by the worldwide Urhobo community to portray their culture to their own children, as well as to outsiders.  It introduces the spiritual beliefs, social and economic life and the role that art plays among the Urhobo peoples, who occupy the western fringe of the Niger River Delta in southern Nigeria.  As Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria hosts numerous artistic traditions that have been well documented and displayed around the world, including the Urhobo creation of the largest and most awe-inspiring figurative statues in all of Africa.


In addition to the traditional art of the Urhobo, each section of the exhibition also includes works by internationally renowned, Nigerian painter and master printmaker, Bruce Onobrakpeya.  An Urhobo by birth and one of Africa’s foremost artists, Onobrakpeya reinterprets traditional Urhobo art and culture while attempting to preserve its essence. 


The eighty-one works that make up this show have been organized into six sections that display and analyze the forms and underlying aesthetic values of Urhobo life, through art in several social and historical contexts:



Section 1:        Land, People, Belief


This introductory section situates the Urhobo and establishes important aspects of their art and religion.  Included here is a photo-mural of a medicine shrine, along with a display of fifteen cast brass and bronze sculptures that are associated with the shrine.


Section 2:        Images of Aggression


This area presents personal shrine art, that both enhances personal aggressiveness and assists individuals in controlling excessive amounts of it.


Section 3:        Celebrating the Stages in Women’s Lives


This section showcases twelve figural representations, masks, female dance groups and photographs of idealized beauty that contrast the important role of women in Urhobo society, with the ideal for men.


Section 4:        Communal Shrine Statuary for Ancestor Spirits


This section invites visitors to experience a reconstructed Urhobo shrine, which represents the founding ancestors as a family unit, commemorating the power that is necessary for the survival and establishment of the community. The huge figures are presented half hidden, as they would originally have been, their awesomeness emphasized by their concealment.


Section 5:        Spirits from the Waters


This visual display highlights the artworks and elaborate performances that celebrate various water spirits.  A reconstruction of an 18- foot mask and videos of mask performances, recreate the mixture of fear and wonder that results from spirits entering the village.


Section 6:        Pride and Preservation


This interactive learning center provides a contemporary perspective on Urhobo art and culture through recent photographs and information on current cultural and artistic movements in Urhoboland.  Paintings by Bruce Onobrakpeya illustrate the effort to preserve traditional identity in a diaspora that has taken them throughout Nigeria, Europe and North America.


Where Gods and Mortals Meet:  Continuity and Renewal in Urhobo Art will be presented at the Museum for African Art from April to August 2004 and will then travel to The Museum of Art, Columbia, SC, and to other host venues through March 2006.  Accompanying the exhibition will be a fully illustrated, color catalogue edited by Dr. Foss, which will also include a series of essays that describe the exhibits marvelous and monumental art objects, placed in thematic contexts.  A large and diverse audience will appreciate, not only the importance of sustaining a culture in the face of political and economic endangerment, but also the beauty of art undergoing revitalization. 



About Dr. Perkins Foss:


Dr. Foss is a lecturer, professor and profound scholar of Urhobo culture.  His works have been published in academic journals and publications on the subjects of the Urhobo peoples, art and religion. Dr. Foss’s papers have been presented at symposiums, museums, universities and conferences across the world.  Dr. Foss will provide vast expertise and knowledge at the Museum for African Art during his guest curatorial tenure on the Where Gods and Mortals Meet.



About The Museum for African Art:


The Museum for African Art is the only independent museum in the United States dedicated to African art and culture.  The Museum celebrates the majesty and wonder of the rich, varied and diverse cultures of the African continent through a wide variety of exhibitions and public programming. 




Museum Location and Hours:


36-01 43rd Avenue

Long Island City, NY 11101


Monday, Thursday, Friday – 10AM-5PM

Saturday and Sunday – 11AM-5PM

Closed Tuesday and Wednesday


Please go to www.africanart.org for transit information.




Media Contact: 


Michelle L. Huff

Lisa Lori Communications

212.925.2300 ext. 224