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.