Long before the first British colonist set foot on the land, Nigeria was a country of Kingdoms. Kings (and Queens) managed diplomacy between their small fiefdoms. They were stripped of their diplomatic function by colonial rule: a function that was not reinstated post-independence in the 1960s. But many local monarchs still survive, with not much more than fine clothes, accoutrements and a handful of subjects to show for their rank.
That's the message of this photographic exhibition from George Osodi, part of the Liverpool Biannale that's going on this summer. All of his kings and queens are photographed face-on. All look very regal, and show extreme extravagance in clothing.
But then again, small details bring the groups back down to earth. Plastic rosary beads are draped around one fine backdrop. A handsome throne is gold painted wood, rather than precious metals. Some of the floors could do with a good sweep. Some of the regalia is frayed. Framed photos flanking one monarch are askew.
Happily, Osodi is not interested in patronisingly underlining the absurd contrast between a finely-dressed monarch and their lack of actual power. His eye is respectful, delighting in the subject... as a subject. "I wanted the Kings project to show the richness of the Kings in their elegance and fashions, which are diverse, changing from one kingdom to another," he told one interviewer.
Exactly. However powerful they are - or aren't - the clothes are great.
George Osodi: Nigerian Monarchs is at Open Eye Gallery (Liverpool). 13 July - 28 October 2018