Art, the product of creative human activity in which materials are shaped or selected to convey an idea, emotion, or visually interesting form. It refer to the visual arts, including painting, sculpture, architecture, photography, decorative arts, crafts, and other visual works that combine materials or forms.
Nigeria’s rich and diverse artistic heritage goes back more than 2,000 years. The earliest noteworthy art pieces are finely produced terra-cotta sculptures produced by the Nok culture in the vicinity of the Jos Plateau between 500 bc and ad 200. These, together with bronze heads from Ife dating from the 13th century and bronze plaques, bronze statues, and ivory carvings from Benin from the 11th century and later, are generally considered Nigeria’s most important artistic legacy. Many such pieces, however, reside in Western museums, where they were taken during the time of colonial conquest.
Nigerian culture reflects African, Islamic, and European influences. In northern Nigeria, Islam has shaped architecture and calligraphy. As Islam traditionally forbids the representation of people and animals, art forms such as ceremonial carvings are virtually absent in the north. In the south, indigenous peoples produced their own art long before Europeans arrived. Portuguese figures first appeared in Benin bronzes dating to the 16th century. Since the dawn of the colonial era, Western influences have challenged, threatened, and in certain ways enriched Nigerian culture.
Nigerian Brass or Bronze artworks
Brass and bronze castings are still made in Nigeria but there is nothing produced now to compare with the fabulous Ife and Benin Bronzes. These perfect examples of portraiture and the “cire peerdue” method of casting, together with the equally perfect terracotta thought to be of the same period and possibly by the same craftsmen, have no equals anywhere.
Apart from the Benin and Ife bronze artworks, archaeological finds at Igbo-Ukwu, in Anambra State, Nigeria have revealed advanced ancient works of art. The Igbo-Ukwu bronzes, which have elaborate intricate symmetrical designs, are as remarkable as the better-known Ife works.
Nigerian Wood Carving
Places like Benin and Awka are acknowledged as centre of wood-carving in Nigeria, wood carvers have flourished all over southern Nigeria since time immemorial, making figures for shrines, portraiture, masks, representations of the spirits of the field, forest stream, earth, sea, sky, water, fire and thunder and many other creative imaginations. The works of old carvers remain in many Nigerian villages where they provide the villages with their shrines, utensils and ornaments to this day. Many of the older examples of these products are preserved in the national and other museums.
Nigerian Ivory Carving
Ivory carvings have for many years adorned ancestral altars in Benin and the palaces of Nigerian rulers. Nigerian Ivory carvings are also available in homes and offices as paper knives, inlaid cigar boxes, cigarette holders, ladies earrings, hatpins, necklaces, bangles, and innumerable small pieces of décor.
As a medium of artistic expression, painting is not completely new in Nigeria. The two groups of rock paintings in Kano and Bauchi are the most important yet found in Nigeria. The Birnin Kudu cattle paintings and symbolic drawings show affinity to some Saharan paintings.
The colouring of masks monochromatically or polychromatically is also a form of painting that has been in existence in Nigeria for as long as the festivals and ceremonies for which such objects were made. Body paintings and decoration for ceremonial rites and festivals are also a common practice in many parts ‘of the country. The designs and decorations used in body painting possess esoteric connotations and the human body so painted at times in varied contours, visually becomes a really beautiful “living art piece”.
Another form of artistic expression closely akin to painting that has been in practice in the country for a long time is the multicolored decoration of the inner and outer walls of houses with beautiful and elaborate symbols and designs. Some of such designs have their origin in the Islamic influence on Nigerian culture and are popular in the northern parts of the country.
Glass and Metal artworks in Nigeria
The metal works, glass beads and bangles of Bida are familiar artworks to visitors to Nigeria. The bead makers in particular preserve their ancient skills as a family tradition. The metal workers were originally the armored of the north. Their art is now applied to the production of skilfully fashioned and decorated trays, bowls and pots rings, bangles and the like.
Nigerian Leather and Calabash
The skin popularly known as Morocco leather comes from goatskin from Sokoto. It was erroneously given the name “Morocco leather” because, until recently, it reached Europe through Moroccan traders who bought them from Nigerian caravan traders across the Sahara Desert. Excellent leatherwork and calabash carvings are produced in Kano and, Oyo in Nigeria.
Archaeological excavations have shown that pottery attained a high level of development in Nigeria several hundred years ago. The tradition has been maintained and Nigerian pottery today ranks among the most artistic in the world. The best-known pottery center in the Nigeria is Suleja in Niger State. In 1963, a Nigerian pottery worker, the Late Dr. Ladi Kwali, toured Great Britain and Europe to demonstrate the art of pottery making in Nigeria. Products of the Pottery center at Okigwe in Imo State are equally widely distributed in Nigeria and abroad.
Cloth Weaving in Nigeria
Cloth weaving is one of the outstanding crafts in Nigeria. The popular Nigerian Akwete cloth woven in a town of that name in Abia State is fast changing the dress fashion of many women who live in, or come to the country. Produced on a broad loom, Akwete is usually about 1,200 millimeters wide. It is produced in attractive designs and rich colors. There are also the “Aso-Oke” woven on narrow looms notably at Iseyin in Oyo State, the Ebira weaving at Okene, Kogi State. These are all traditionally made wears with rich designs.
Nigerian Grass Weaving
Because grass is plentiful in the northern parts of Nigeria, northern craftsmen and women make grass baskets, fans, tables and floor mats. Some of the objects are beautifully colored and durable. Some places in the riverine areas in the southern Nigeria equally engage in such activities.