A Piece of Nigeria Viewed on the East Coast

Dr. Ottenberg brings a series of art pieces in his collection, The Art of Translation: The
Simon Ottenberg Gift of Modern and Contemporary Nigerian Art at the Newark Museum.

There are few places where pieces of art from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and more African countries can be viewed within one collection. One of those few places can be found across the river in Newark, New Jersey at the Newark Museum thanks to Dr. Simon Ottenberg.

Dr. Ottenberg brings a various array of Nigerian art to the Philadelphia-Newark area in his collection called, “The Art of Translation: The Simon Ottenberg Gift of Modern and Contemporary Nigerian Art. Dr. Ottenberg”. His exhibit has given the Museum over 145 pieces of art which he collected within the last 50 years. The pieces of art vary from sculptures to paintings, from works of writing and to more.

From Seattle, Washington, Dr. Ottenberg was an anthropology professor at the University of Washington, Seattle. He is well known for being a pioneer scholar within the field of Nigerian Art.

“Well, I started collecting in the 1960s mostly in Nigeria out of curiosity. I never intended for there to be research on it. I collected a few pieces out of Nigeria, and went from there,” Ottenberg said.

Many pieces came together before Dr. Ottenberg decided to study one artistic group and before everything started to fall together as a big research project instead of a hobby. Dr. Ottenberg was offered a fellowship at the Smithsonian in the 90s and also decided to study one artistic group at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

“Anthropologists were studying traditional manners at the time and here I got a chance to study a modern art forming instead, it was all very exciting,” Ottenberg said.

During the time period, Dr. Ottenberg explains that most African countries gained independence and that is what “spurred a tremendous amount of movement in the modern art idea.” African programs needed art for independence and celebration.

Dr. Ottenberg reveled in this idea. “Can’t have independence without modern art, after all.”

The modern art movement that came from the independence in Africa was what allowed Dr. Ottenberg to truly come up with his collection that can now be seen in Newark. Ottenberg explains that the collection is made up of European techniques with African images due to the fact that Europe once had control over Africa. The group that was studied used an array of European techniques such as watercolor and sculpture. Dr. Ottenberg’s collection had made up an extremely significant part of his life.

“I’ve found over 100 pieces and they have taken all the life that I have. And yes, I have favorites among them but I like to think of them all together,” Ottenberg said.

The favorites that Ottenberg is stating are the 24 works that have made it into the collection. The collection is made up of pieces that date back from the 1940s until 2000. Artists include Akinola Lasekan, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Ada Udechukwu, Chinwe Uwatse, and more.

The main idea of the collection is for viewers to see these artists way of translating their culture their various art forms. Curated by Perrin Lathrop, Curatorial Associate, Arts of Africa, “The Art of Translation” can be viewed until Nov. 3 at the Newark Museum.

“I chose Newark [Museum] because they were expanding their African and modern art collection. My collection would fit in very well and Christa Clark is very knowledgeable and a forward curator in her work,” Ottenberg said.

The Newark Museum can be found at 49 Washington St., Newark, NJ. Admission for students with a valid I.D is $6. For more information call 973-596-6550 or visit newarkmuseum.org.

Chelsea Finn can be reached at Chelsea.finn@temple.edu.

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