National Museum of African Art Announces “Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley”

“Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley” will be on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art from Sept. 14 through March 4, 2012.This international exhibition presents a comprehensive view of the arts produced in the region and includes some of the most abstract, dramatic and inventive sculpture in sub-Saharan Africa.

The exhibition features more than 148 objects used in a range of ritual contexts, with genres as varied and complex as the vast region itself. It will demonstrate how the history of central Nigeria can be “unmasked” through the dynamic interrelationships of its peoples and their arts.

The exhibition includes full-bodied maternal images, sleek columnar statues, helmet masks adorned with naturalistic human faces, horizontal masks designed as stylized animal-human fusions, imaginative anthropomorphic ceramic vessels and elaborate regalia forged in iron and cast in copper alloys.

“This exhibition is a treasure trove of outstanding works of art, placed for the first time within a broader context,” said curator Karen Milbourne. “This exhibition tells the story of how individual artists have experimented with styles and communities have exchanged ideas and objects. It sheds light on a heretofore little understood but long admired art-producing region.”

“Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley” is organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA in association with the Musée du quai Branly in Paris.

Image: Anjenu Shrine National Museum of African Art

For more information about this exhibition, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the museum’s website at

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