Collaborating with the California Academy of Sciences, Nigerian sculptor Geoffrey Nwogu created a traditional Igbo “mbari“—a sculptural installation consisting of a family of three deity figures positioned on a platform with a backdrop. Made of mud clay fashioned over wooden armatures, the finished work was a replica of a typical mbari house complex, built as an offering to the gods as part of the ritual customs practiced in a handful of small villages in southeastern Nigeria.
The San Francisco mbari project was created over a three-month period in a prominent place in the Academy’s Cowell Hall. The event attracted an audience of more than 250,000 people, including many of Nigerian descent. The artist created the piece, working four days per week on the museum floor during open hours. Collaborators believe this was the first version of a mbari to be constructed outside of Nigeria, and the Academy’s documentation of the process made a significant contribution to ethnographic knowledge. Once it was completed, the Academy displayed it for three additional months.
Geoffrey Nwogu was born into a family of woodcarvers in Aboh-Mbaise, situated in Imo State, Nigeria. He attended village school and learned woodcarving from his father, later working in his father’s studio. While developing as an artist, he became well known in Nigerian art circles and served as a prominent member of the exclusive Mbari Group of Artists. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1983.
The California Academy of Sciences, a private nonprofit institution based in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Founded in 1853 as the first scientific institution in the West, the Academy’s mission is to explore and explain the natural world.