An exhibition, “Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria” opens at the National Museum, Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria on Friday, Sept. 29, and will remain on permanent display. This historic exhibition offers the work of noted Nigerian photographer, Chief S.O. Alonge, the first official photographer of the Royal Court of the Benin Kingdom.
The exhibition had been on display at the Smithsonian from Sept. 17, 2014, through July 31, 2016. The exhibition’s section panels, banners and prints of Alonge’s photography are to be a permanent gift from the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art to the National Museum of Benin; the result of an historic collaboration between the Smithsonian and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria.
Co-curated by Amy Staples, the National Museum of African Art’s senior archivist, “Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria” represents a unique collection of archival photographs documenting the traditional arts, culture and social history of the Benin-Edo peoples.
“Through his portrait photography in the Ideal Photo Studio, Alonge provided local residents—many for the first time—with the opportunity to represent themselves to themselves as dignified African subjects,” Staples said. “His portraits of an emerging elite society in Benin City not only illustrate the cosmopolitan and modernizing influences of the 20th-century in Nigeria, they preserve the social history of Benin and its traditional leaders for future research and educational programs at the National Museum of Benin City.”
“We are delighted at the homecoming of Solomon Alonge’s photographic art to Benin City,” said Ivana Ivie Osagie, CEO of Notore Seeds and chair of the Benin Publicity Committee. “It has indeed come full circle, thanks to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington. We hope that the Smithsonian’s generous gifting of Alonge’s digital and print photographs to the National Museum will open up Alonge’s work to new audiences and also deepen and strengthen the partnership that has begun between the National Museum of African Art and the National Museum.”
The collection of historic photographs was captured on Kodak glass-plate negatives and documents more than 50 years of the ritual, pageantry and regalia of the Benin Obas, their wives and retainers. Alonge’s photographs reveal a unique insider’s view of the Benin royal family and court ceremonies, including historic visits by Queen Elizabeth, foreign dignitaries, traditional rulers, political leaders and celebrities. The collection preserves an important historical record of Benin arts and culture during the periods of British colonial rule and the transition to Nigerian independence during the 1950s and 1960s. The Chief S.O. Alonge exhibition celebrates the role Nigerian photographers have played in documenting their own history and addressing issues of identity, nationhood and memory.
On Saturday, Sept. 30, at 1 p.m., Staples and curator Theophilus Umogbai from the National Museum of Benin will lead a tour to explore Alonge’s work; the event is free and open to the public.