There is evidence of developed culture in Nigeria, including art, starting with the Nok culture around the 7th century BC. The Sokoto culture developed around the 3rd century BC, and the town of Ife was founded around 800 AD. The Yoruba trace their earliest ancestry to Mecca during or just after the time of Mohammed, but Ife is the original home of Yoruba culture. The Edo people from Benin can be traced to around 900 AD, and there was a period of major expansion by its warrior kings around the 15th and 16th centuries. Both the Edo and Yoruba people developed a rich tradition of artistry in wood, brass, and ivory. In fact when the British sacked Benin City in 1897 they took over 2,000 of the royal artifacts back to London. To this day many of these pieces can be seen in the British Museum in London, the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin, The Michael C. Rockefeller Collection at the Metropolitan (New York), and other museums around Europe.
This rich tradition of West African fine art developed throughout this region of what is now South West Nigeria. To this day the cities of Oyo, Ife, Ibadan, and Benin City are known for their exceptional art works. Quoting from “World Art Africa” by Peter Stepan he notes “The bronze and brass sculptures created by Ife court metal crafters are technically and aesthetically among the finest of their kind. Their beautiful modeling and impeccable casting initially led Europeans mistakenly to assume that they had been imported from Europe…they marked a culmination of African realism….observers were so struck by the naturalism of the Ife heads that they thought they must be individual portraits.”
From this we know that there is a long tradition of the arts in South West Nigeria. Some of our modern artists can trace their roots back to ancestors who practiced their craft in these royal courts of days gone by. While this art has been classified as “primitive” by some, a former curator of the Metropolitan Museum in New York described a particularly fine ivory carving of Queen Iyoba thusly “The beautiful carving is on a par with the work of the greatest portrait sculptors of renaissance Europe, and the magical piece admirably sums up the strength and subtle, power and delicacy of African Art.”
Even today there is a very active arts scene in Nigeria carrying on the traditional as well as exploring new territory.
This piece shows the beauty of the ebony wood, and skill of the artist.
This piece also in ebony is of a local hunter.
This mask was the theme for Hevasof importing. It reminds us: of our common humanity even though our
development and roles may be different,
that all people go through stages and that compassion for others and ourselves
is always appropriate,
and that even though we are in one stage of life or another that we are all
mortal and all we leave behind is the legacy and quality of our life.
The three faces of the oba (king) mask represents the three stages of life of the king: The left face represents his first stage as a youth who has to learn and play and do all the normal things a youth does, the middle face represents the second stage as king. He has power over life and death of his kingdom, the right face is of the dying king who, though he had power over life and death as a king, succumbs to death like every other mortal.