+234 Connect Celebrating Nigerian Creativity and Culture at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

+234 Connect Festival: Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

The just concluded +234 Connect Festival, a unique five-day cinematic and exhibition experience celebrating the art, people, and film of Nigeria, was held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art from Wednesday, September 28, through Sunday, October 2, 2022.

The event, which ran over the weekend of Nigerian Independence, included concerts, master lectures, dialogues with filmmakers and artists, exhibitions, and film screenings. It also gave the public a chance to see the renowned Benin Bronzes before they were returned to Nigeria.

+234 Connect, so named after Nigeria’s country code, is a celebration of African imagination and expression. Visitors will have the chance to examine Iké Ude: Nollywood Portraits and Before NollywoodThe Ideal Photo Studio, two complementary exhibitions showcasing Nigerian art. Iké Ude: Nollywood Portraits exhibit the multimedia artist Iké Ude’s work along with images of the creative individuals who power Nollywood. Public access had been opened earlier this year. 

The retrospective “Before Nollywood…The Ideal Photo Studio,” which made its debut on Tuesday, September 27, honoured the work of Solomon Osagie Alonge (1911–1994), a significant figure in the history of studio photography in Nigeria and the proprietor of Ideal Photo Studio, the first business photography studio in Benin City. Alonge was a prolific photographer. In the 1950s and 1960s, Alonge photographed individuals and families in his studio while using specific costumes, pieces of furniture, backdrops, and other accessories. The images contextualise Ude’s photographs, which use colour, clothing, and other elements to make a strong statement about the power of African identities despite centuries of attempts to erase them by Eurocentric art history and ideas of beauty. The images act as historical forerunners to Ude’s photographs. Nigeria has always been a land of creativity, flung across the waters with the likes of the late master, Ben Enwonwu and the new school of masters such as Chidi Kwubiri.

The museum’s website has a complete list of the festival’s events. Highlights of the programme included a screening of “Living in Bondage,” a pioneering Nollywood film, masterclasses with Dame Taiwo Ajai-Lycett and Yolanda Okereke, and dialogues with Nollywood actors and directors including Obi Emelonye, Chioma Ude, O.C. Ukeje, and Tope Oshin.

The museum’s collection of Benin Bronzes, which was part of its Benin Royal Art collection, will be officially deaccessioned and returned to Nigeria on October 11 in a private ceremony, so visitors will have one last chance to admire their beauty and creativity from September 27 through October 11, 2022. The movie “Invasion 1897,” which recounts the British invasion and pillage of the Kingdom of Benin, will also be screened. This will be followed by a discussion on the demands for restitution, reparations, and the restoration of artwork in Nigeria. Lancelot Imasuen, the director of the movie, Victor Ehikhamenor, an artist, and Prof. Abba Tijani, the director general of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, will all participate in the conversation.

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