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The Art Institute of Chicago

Benin "Oba Head" (long)

Benin "Oba Head" (long)

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From: The Art Institute of Chicago
Limited Edition: 43
Exhibition: Benin—Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria
Material: Printed vinyl
Dimensions: 31" x 99" (78cm x 251cm)

Hanging Hardware Included


The Kingdom of Benin had a long, rich history of divine leaders known as obas. These kings were believed to have supernatural powers and divine grace, and their lineage was revered by the people of the kingdom. They were also enthusiastic patrons of the arts, using their power and fortune to maintain guilds of artists. The work of these artists exalted the stature of the obas. From The Art Institute of Chicago come 43 banners featuring a beautifully wrought brass head of an oba.

If you love the Benin banner from Chicago but are worried it might not fit in your lower-ceilinged abode, you are in luck. The museum also produced a series of shorter banners featuring the same image! These banners are a full 23" shorter and 1" narrower than the standard-size version.


The royal arts of the Benin kingdom pay homage to the concept of the oba (divine king). Court artists used various media and imagery to portray his divine nature and consistent rule over the kingdom. Their art also retells the important historical events of the kingdom and further portrays the oba’s divine properties through images of his supernatural interactions and the continuity of his deified lineage. The sophisticated, beautiful creations of Benin’s royal artists stand among the greatest works of African art.

The obas maintained guilds of artists to produce royal objects, chief among them were brass casters and ivory carvers. This banner shows a detail of one such brass sculpture, an Altar Head from the 18th/19th century. Intricately detailed and masterfully cast in bronze, the work shows the head of Oba Uhunmwun Elao. This commanding brass head would have served as an elaborate stand for a carved elephant tusk. The work was commissioned by the newly enthroned oba, and stood on an altar to commemorate the continuity with the previous oba, most likely his father. The head was a prominent symbol in Benin as it represented a person''s ability succeed in this lifetime and go on to become a productive deified ancestor in the after life. The high collar around the neck shows the elaborateness of court regalia.

This banner was designed to span a street-lamp post, so hanging a pair of banners side-by-side shows the full image and creates a dramatic diptych. The front features one half of the image with white text that reads “The Art Institute of Chicago”. The reverse features the other half of the image with the exhibition name and dates in yellow, “BENIN/Kings and Rituals/Court Arts from Nigeria/July 10 – September 21”. The exhibition sponsor, “Sara Lee Foundation” is printed in white on black at the bottom. A shorter version of this banner is available to fit your smaller spaces.


These banners were displayed around Chicago from January 26 - April 20, 2008 to promote the exhibition, Benin—Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria . This was the exclusive venue for this exhibition.

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