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George Osodi, “HRM Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, The Emir of Katsina” (2012), Fuji Crystal Archive (C Type) 120 x 160 cm (47.2 x 63 inches) (All images courtesy of the Newark Museum)

In January, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi caused a stir when he stepped out in a pin-striped suit emblazoned with his own name. The leader was riffing on an age-old tradition of sartorially showcasing power, a practice that long ago fell out of favor; most heads of state today wear suits or other attire so drab you’d never know they were expensive.

Still, the image of a bejeweled, fur-swathed monarch sitting atop an ornate throne carries a strange allure, maybe because it speaks to our love of history and legend. That might be what’s so intriguing about Royals & Regalia: Inside the Palaces of Nigeria’s Monarchs at New Jersey’s Newark Museum. The show features 40 life-size portraits of impressively clothed modern day sovereigns by Nigerian photographer George Osodi.

Dressed in embroidered silks, colorful brocades and weighty baubles, the rulers make a stunning — if not slightly foreboding — statement. The catch is that none of them actually wield any constitutional power. The regional monarchies they represent, which existed long before present-day Nigeria formed in 1914, were stripped of their legal authority after the country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1963. Though resplendent, they’re little more than figureheads preserving their cultural heritage.

George Osodi, “HRM Agbogidi Obi James Ikechukwu Anyasi II, Obi of Idumuje Unor” (2012), Fuji Crystal Archive (C Type) 160 x 120 cm (63 x 47.2 inches)

George Osodi, “HRM Pere Donokoromo II, The Pere of Isaba Kingdom” (2012), Fuji Crystal Archive (C Type) 160 x 120 cm (63 x 47.2 inches)

George Osodi, “HRH Emir of Zauzau (Zaria) Alhaji, Dr. Shehu Idris (2006), Fuji Crystal Archive (C Type) 120 x 160 cm (47.2 x 63 inches)

George Osodi, “HRH Queen Hajiya Hadizatu Ahmedu, Magajiya of Kubwada” (2012), Fuji Crystal Archive (C Type) 120 x 160 cm (47.2 x 63 inches)

George Osodi, “HRM Lucky Ochuko Ararile, The Ovie of Umiaghwa Abraka Kingdom” (2012), Fuji Crystal Archive (C Type) 120 x 160 cm (47.2 x 63 inches)

George Osodi, “HRM The Emir of Kano Alhaji Ado Bayero” (2012), Fuji Crystal Archive (C Type) 120 x 160 cm (47.2 x 63 inches)

George Osodi, “The Emir of Kano’s Rolls Royce” (2012), Fuji Crystal Archive (C Type) 120 x 160 cm (47.2 x 63 inches)

George Osodi, “HRM Igwe Kenneth Onyeneke Orizu II, Obi of Nnewi” (2014), Fuji Crystal Archive (C Type) 160 x 120 cm (63 x 47.2 inches)

George Osodi, “HRM Princess Dr. Adetutu Adebiyi Adesida Regent of Akure” (2014), Fuji Crystal Archive (C Type) 160 x 120 cm (63 x 47.2 inches)

George Osodi, “HRM Obi Imegwu II, Obi of Aboh Kingdom” (2013), Fuji Crystal Archive (C Type) 120 x 160 cm (47.2 x 63 inches)

George Osodi, “HRM Alayeluwa Oba Rufus Adeyemo Adejugbe Aladesanmi III, The Ewi of Ado- Ekiti” (2013), Fuji Crystal Archive (C Type) 160 x 120 cm (63 x 47.2 inches)

Royals & Regalia: Inside the Palaces of Nigeria’s Monarchs continues at the Newark Museum (49 Washington St, Newark, New Jersey) until August 9.

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...