Images of Nigeria

Images of Nigeria

WHAT: “Kings, Chiefs and Women of Power: Images from Nigeria,” a new exhibit at the Arthur Ross Gallery. The show features 30 large-format Cibachrome prints by photographer Phyllis Galembo, who collected the photos while traveling around southern Nigeria in 1993-1994, studying the costumes, customs and traditions of the Benin people. The show also includes 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century century Benin Kingdom “prestige objects” on loan from the Penn Museum.

WHEN: The show opens Nov. 13 and runs through Jan. 18.

WHERE: The Arthur Ross Gallery, 220 South 34th St. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and weekends from 12 p.m.-5 p.m. All exhibits are free and open to the public.

HOW IT HAPPENED: By happy coincidence, explains Arthur Ross Gallery Director Lynn Marsden-Atlass. After a previously planned ARG show fell through, Marsden-Atlass caught a break when chatting with Penn Museum Director Richard Hodges. Hodges told Marsden-Atlass about the Museum’s upcoming exhibit on the Republic of Benin (that show, “Iyare! Splendor and Tension in Benin’s Palace Theatre” runs through March) and suggested she touch base with that exhibit’s guest curator, Kathy Curnow, associate professor of art history at Cleveland State University. “In speaking with Kathy,” Marsden-Atlass says, “she told me about this photographer she knew who had some remarkable photos from Benin and Nigeria and suggested we might do something to complement the [Penn Museum] show.”

WORLD TRAVELER: Galembo has traveled from Haiti to Cuba to West Africa and beyond for her work, in which she attempts to document the rituals and cultures of native peoples around the world. She has recently had her work on display at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York City, and the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.

POWERFUL PORTRAITS: “I think Phyllis really captures the personality of the sitter,” Marsden-Atlass says. “They’re dressed in ceremonial costume or ritual dress. They have all the accoutrements of power they hold [in their community]. And in many cases, you’ll be able to see [at the show] those same objects that are in the photographs—these traditional objects from the 18th and 19th and 20th centuries.”

GALLERY TALKS: The gallery will host two presentations in conjunction with the show. On Nov. 13 at 4:30 p.m., Galembo hosts, “Ritual Dress, Costume and Masquerade.” And on Nov. 14, guest curator Curnow presents, “Status Symbols: Ritual and Political Impressions in Southern Nigeria.”

FOR MORE INFO: To make reservations for either of the gallery talks for “Kings,” call 215-898-2083. To learn more about other shows at Arthur Ross Gallery, visit And for more information about Penn Museum’s “Iyare!,” go to

Originally published on November 13, 2008