George Osodi’s portraits of African royalty go on show at London’s Bermondsey Project

A portrait of an important tribal person sat on a red chair wearing a red/orange robe and a red crown. He is surrounded by two tribal persons holding wood-style objects. On the wall behind are portraits and large wood swords.
'HRM Pere Donokoromo II (JP) The Pere of Isaba Kingdom'
(Image credit: George Osodi)

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 (opens in new tab), in a new exhibition opening today at London’s Bermondsey Project, curated by Ziggi Golding of Zphotographic (opens in new tab).

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 (opens in new tab), 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.

His Highness Alhaji (Dr) Ado Bayero Emir of Kano

'His Highness Alhaji (Dr) Ado Bayero Emir of Kano'

(Image credit: George Osodi)

Palace of Emir of Kano

'Palace of Emir of Kano'

(Image credit: George Osodi)

His Highness Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir Usman The Emir of Katsina

'His Highness Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir Usman The Emir of Katsina'

(Image credit: George Osodi)

HRM Obi James Anyasi II (JP) The Obi of Idumuje –Unor

'HRM Obi James Anyasi II (JP) The Obi of Idumuje –Unor'

(Image credit: George Osodi)

HRM Oba Jimoh Oyetunji Olanipekun Larooyell Ataoja of Osogboland

'HRM Oba Jimoh Oyetunji Olanipekun Larooyell Ataoja of Osogboland'

(Image credit: George Osodi)

His Royal Majesty Benjamin Ikenchuku Keagborekuzi the First (Keagborekuzi I)The Dein of Agbor Kingdom

'His Royal Majesty Benjamin Ikenchuku Keagborekuzi the First (Keagborekuzi I)The Dein of Agbor Kingdom'

(Image credit: George Osodi)

Osun Grove, Kingdom of Osogbo

'Osun Grove, Kingdom of Osogbo'

(Image credit: George Osodi)

HRM Wilson Ojakovo Oharisi lll the Ovie Of Ughelli

'HRM Wilson Ojakovo Oharisi lll the Ovie Of Ughelli'

(Image credit: George Osodi)

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