The mystique of royal dynasties has always gripped the public’s imaginations, even today, when their roles have mostly become symbolic. Photojournalist George Osodi offers an alternate glimpse into modern day monarchy through his portraits of Nigeria’s tribal kings, in a new exhibition opening today at London’s Bermondsey Project, curated by Ziggi Golding of Zphotographic.
Nigeria's monarchs were stripped of their constitutional powers in 1963, yet they remain part of the country's political and social landscape. Osodi’s large-scale images depict them in full regal fare, their somber expressions often in stark contrast with their colourful garments.
For the Lagos-based photographer, venturing beyond formal portraits to investigate the monarchs’ environments was key. Osodi was eager to capture their tastes in architecture and fashion as the tribes reposition themselves in the new millenium.
‘Unfortunately, a lot of the newer generations cannot relate with or identify their traditional rulers,’ says Osodi. He still has hope, however, that the old and the new can be reconciled: ‘I am of the view, especially in this time of sectarian and insecurity crisis, that people generally see the diverse nature among its various people as a strength, and not as a weakness or divide.’
A great deal of mystery still shrouds Nigeria's reclusive outliers, which Osodi has neatly resolved by the inclusion of a brief historical biography on the tribe and rituals associated with each rulers’ image. The kings are vestiges of an ancient tradition, and the series is a remarkable addition to the country's sorely lacking historical archives.