History of Art in Nigeria

Artistic heritage is one of the interesting features that distinguishes Nigeria. The conception of art in Nigeria has a significant history dating from the emergence of the ancient Nok Culture peculiar to the River Benue region of northern Nigeria.

The dawn of the 15th century saw an explosion inthe art scene. Iyoba Idia (Queen Mother of Oba Esigie)’s  occasioned the carving of the famous figurine. They became popular and placed the Benin Kingdom into the world of arts. 

Nok Art

Nok art claims the oldest example of terracotta in Africa, south Saharan. Terracotta itself means baked clay and the baking is don after the modeling. The clay becomes hard when it is placed in fire. Sculptures are fired at high temperatures to get the terracotta result as opposed to pottery fired at low temperatures.

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Producing this art requires technical knowledge, majorly a mastery of clay forms. Terracotta clay must have no holes or air bubbles because they expand in heat and can crack, which is a danger to the sculptor in the event it’s a big sculpture.

Ife Art

Ife is said to be the cradle of civilization of the Yorubas. According to Yoruba mythology, it was where creation started, with Obatala being the creator and Oduduwa being the first Ooni, ruler of Ife. A lot of rulers of several parts of Yoruba land can trace their ancestry to Odudua. It is, therefore, kind of difficult to imagine such great people without art. In 1938 about 18 pieces of Brass arts where found in Wunmonije compound in Ile-Ife during a building project.

The most popular of these is called the Ife bronze head. It is the depiction of a portrait of a man, and it is said to represent a king, King Obalufon II. He was said to be the patron of the bronze casters at that time, and now he had become the patron deity of bronze casters in Ile-Ife. Majority of the sculptures found in Ife art are of both gods and rulers, some of them life-sized and some under-life sized.

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Benin Art

Benin Art originates from the Kingdom of Benin, otherwise known as the Edo Empire (1440-1897). The Kingdom of Benin is a pre-colonial African state located in the south-south region of modern-day Nigeria. Its pieces were crafted mainly for the court of the Oba of Benin. Benin art was made from cast bronze and carved ivory. The art is ceremonially significant as they depict the Oba’s divine nature, centrality and his interactions with the supernatural. These art pieces honour the deified ancestors of the Oba.

Materials used in Benin art are mainly brass, ivory, and coral and are believed to be endowed with sacred powers. The value and process of art in Benin reflect the earthly and otherworldly influence of the Oba and the great wealth of his kingdom. Benin’s royal arts belong to a tradition that emulates convention even as it promotes creativity and innovation, especially as a reflection of royal prerogative.

Author: BF

light sleeper, heavy dreamer.

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