Traditional Art of Nigeria: What You Need to Know

Archaeologists in Nigeria have found a tradition of sculpture that dates to at least 500 B.C. Statues and figurines made of ceramic, bronze, terra cotta and brass have been found in Nigeria. Bronze casting is a traditional art found mostly in the southwestern area of the country. Nigerian bronze-work often is used to depict striking lifelike statues and masks. Read more...
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Traditional Art of Nigeria

Nigeria has an artistic tradition that dates back thousands of years. While much of the country’s early art had a religious or spiritual significance, many of the traditional arts and crafts evolved over time to include practical and decorative items.

Many of the local arts and crafts are regional, but most large markets in the major cities sell items from all over the country.

Sculpture
Archaeologists in Nigeria have found a tradition of sculpture that dates to at least 500 B.C. Statues and figurines made of ceramic, bronze, terra cotta and brass have been found in Nigeria.

Bronze casting is a traditional art found mostly in the southwestern area of the country.

Nigerian bronze-work often is used to depict striking lifelike statues and masks.

Masks
Large wooden masks are part of the animist faith of the Yoruba people, which pre-dates Christianity in the country. The masks often are painted, and believers wear them at funerals and other ceremonies to appease the spirits.

The Yoruba festival of Gelede, which celebrates female elders, uses large, elaborately carved masks that depict lifelike women’s faces and fighting animals.

Textiles
The Yoruba use a shrub to create indigo-colored batik-dyed cloth. In Ife, Osogbo, Abeokuta and Ibadan, women traditionally do the dying, while in the north, the craft is practiced almost exclusively by men.

Weavers throughout the country produce brightly colored cloth with patterned designs. Oyo state is known for its fine loom cloths, while cloth from Abia state uses a broadloom technique.

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Pottery
Pottery has a long tradition in Nigeria. Pottery from 100 B.C. was found at the archaeological site Iwo Eleru, and terra cotta artifacts dating from A.D. 800 were found at Ile Ife.

Today Suleja, Abuja and Ilorin are considered important centers of traditional pottery, although the craft is practiced throughout the country.

Many of the pieces are large vessels with intricate carvings. Potters in Nigeria are often female, and it is common practice for the techniques to be handed down through families.

Other Arts
Carved ivory is used for jewelry and small decorative items, as well as for figures placed at altars in honor of ancestors. Woodcarvers create decorative practical implements, such as household utensils, but also figurines, shrines and decorative panels and doors for the home. The most famous woodcarving comes from Oyo, Benin, Awka and Osogbo.

Woven grass is used to make baskets, fans, hats and small tables, while cane weaving creates larger household furniture such as tables and chairs.

Glass and coral beads are created by craftsmen who usually inherit the profession; the beads often are applied to small charms, such as the ibej doll, a symbol of good luck.

– Travel Tips USA Today

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