Effects of Colonialism on Nigerian Art
The art of Nigeria was greatly impacted by colonialism, and the importance of European techniques and training grew during this period.
Discuss the cultural impact colonialism had on art in Nigeria
- The modern state of Nigeria originated from British colonial rule, beginning in the 19th century and the merging of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and Northern Nigeria Protectorate in 1914.
- This era of European colonization had a tremendous impact on the art and culture of Nigeria.
- Aina Onabolu (1882–1963) was a pioneering Nigerian modern arts teacher and painter who was an important figure in the introduction of arts into the curriculum of secondary schools in the country.
- Onabolu was also the major figure in Nigeria that promoted the drawing of environmental forms using European techniques and was known for his early modern work in portraiture.
- During this era, Eurocentric beliefs and worldviews made it so that it was often considered important, even essential, for African artists to receive training in Europe in order to prove their merit.
- At the same time, in the early 20th century, African artwork was being brought back to Europe where it influenced and inspired the work of many European artists, including Pablo Picasso ‘s so-called “African Period.”
- verisimilitudinous: In a style reflecting the philosophical concept that distinguishes between the relative and apparent (or seemingly so) truth and falsity of assertions and hypotheses.
Background: Colonialism in Nigeria
The modern state of Nigeria originated from British colonial rule, beginning in the 19th century, and the merging of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and Northern Nigeria Protectorate in 1914. The British set up administrative and legal structures while practicing indirect rule through traditional chiefdoms. Nigeria did not become a formally independent federation until 1960. This era of colonization had a tremendous impact on the art and culture of Nigeria.
The Introduction of European Art Styles
Aina Onabolu (1882–1963) was a pioneering Nigerian modern arts teacher and painter who was an important figure in the introduction of arts into the curriculum of secondary schools in the country. He was also the major figure in Nigeria that promoted the drawing of environmental forms in a verisimilitudinous style and was known for his early modern work in portraiture.
When the colonial government in Nigeria took control of formal education in 1909, the curriculum in the schools was geared toward the provision of suitable education to train clerks for the colonial administration. Little was thought of arts education in secondary schools until a report recommended the teaching of native indigenous hand craft. Prior to the report, Onabolu had formally presented requests for the introduction of modern arts education in secondary schools, but his option was rejected by the colonial education officers.
Onabolu returned from London and Paris in 1922, where he had acquired knowledge of European painting techniques and the characteristics of European art education. Around this same time, a new perspective on introducing indigenous art education in the country was emerging. Onabolu began teaching in a few top schools in Lagos such as King’s College and CMS Grammar School. His themes dealt primarily with the science of perspective, human proportions, drawing, and watercolor painting. During this era, Eurocentric beliefs and worldviews made it so that it was often considered important, and even essential, for African artists to receive training in Europe in order to prove their merit.
Re-emergence of Traditional Arts
Onabolu also encouraged the adoption of European teachers in art instruction in the country. His effort led to the hiring of a foreign art teacher named Kenneth Murray, who led a gradual re-awakening of traditional handicraft and arts. The new approach of promoting indigenous African arts and staying within the native repository of knowledge was introduced into the curriculum of various secondary schools in the country. The efforts of the new instructor yielded early dividends, as the number of Nigerian art instructors increased, and knowledge of traditional works became more pronounced. However, Murray’s effort meant little in the long run as the country was increasingly westernized by its colonial rulers.
Nigeria’s Influence on European Art
In the early 20th century, African artwork, including that from Nigeria, was being brought back to European museums as colonists were expanding through sub-Saharan Africa. In a growing climate of interest in Africa, artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse began to look toward African artwork as inspiration for some of their work. Picasso’s so-called “African Period,” which lasted from 1906 to 1909, was the period in which he painted in a style that was strongly influenced by African sculpture and particularly traditional African masks. This proto-Cubist period following Picasso’s Blue Period and Rose Period has also been called the Black Period.
In May or June 1907, Picasso experienced a “revelation” while viewing African art at the ethnographic museum at Palais du Trocadéro. Picasso’s exposure to African art influenced the style of his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (begun in May 1907 and reworked in July of that year), especially in the treatment of the two figures on the right side of the composition. Although Les Demoiselles is seen as a proto-Cubist work, Picasso continued to develop a style derived from African art before beginning the analytic cubism phase of his painting in 1910. Other works of Picasso’s African Period include the Bust of a Woman (1907), Mother and Child (1907), Nude with Raised Arms (1907), and Three Women (1908).
Nigerian Art Post-Independence
Art in Nigeria post-independence has been characterized by a continued fusion of European and traditional Nigerian arts, along with a movement to break away from European styles.
Evaluate the societal trends seen in Nigerian art produced after independence
- Nigeria became a formally independent federation in 1960; it has since alternated between democratically elected civilian governments and military dictatorships, until it achieved a stable democracy in 1999.
- Art in Nigeria post-independence has been characterized by a movement to break away from European styles and embrace purely traditional styles once more, as seen in the works of Enwonwu and Okeke and the emergence of the Négritude Movement.
- Odinigwe Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu (1917–1994) was a premier Igbo Nigerian modernist painter, sculptor, and pioneer whose career opened the way for the postcolonial proliferation and increased visibility of modern African art.
- Christopher Uchefuna Okeke (1933—2016), known as Uche Okeke, was another important and influential contemporary Nigerian artist.
- The Négritude Movement is an artistic, literary, and ideological philosophy developed by french-speaking African intellectuals, writers, and politicians during the 1930s.
- The initiators of the movement disapproved of European colonialism and claimed that the best strategy to oppose it was to encourage a common racial identity for black Africans worldwide.
- francophone: French-speaking.
Background: Independent Nigeria
The modern state of Nigeria originated from British colonial rule, beginning in the 19th century, and from the merging of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and Northern Nigeria Protectorate in 1914. The British set up administrative and legal structures while practicing indirect rule through traditional chiefdoms. Nigeria became a formally independent federation in 1960 and plunged into a civil war from 1967 to 1970. It has since alternated between democratically elected civilian governments and military dictatorships, until it achieved a stable democracy in 1999.
Art in Nigeria post-independence has been characterized by a continued fusion of European and traditional Nigerian arts, along with a movement to break away from European styles and embrace purely traditional styles once more, as seen in the works of Enwonwu and Okeke and the emergence of the Négritude Movement.
Odinigwe Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu (1917–1994), better known in the western world as Ben Enwonwu, was a premier Igbo Nigerian modernist painter, sculptor, and pioneer. His career opened the way for the post-colonial proliferation and increased visibility of modern African art, especially that of Nigeria. His work has been exhibited around the world.
During his time, Enwonwu was well regarded as an artist, and his art is described as a “unique form of African modernism.” Enwonwu studied Fine Arts under Kenneth C. Murray at Government Colleges, Ibadan and Umuahia, 1934–1937. Murray was an education officer in charge of art education in the colonial civil service and later director of antiquities. Enwonwu attended Goldsmith College, London, in 1944, and then continued his studies at Ruskin College, Oxford, England, from 1944 to 1946, and at Ashmolean College and Slade School of Fine Arts, Oxford, 1946–48, graduating with first-class honors. During their time together, Enwonwu became Murray’s assistant and was recognized as one of the most gifted and technically proficient students of the “Murray Group.”
His career teaching art, touring, and lecturing spanned the next several decades, all while he held many art exhibitions in London, Lagos, Milan, New York, Washington D.C., and Boston. During her visit to Nigeria in 1956, Queen Elizabeth II commissioned and sat for a portrait sculpture by the artist. During the Royal Society of British Artists exhibition in London of 1957, he unveiled the bronze sculpture. Recognition of his bronze sculpture of the Queen proved that he, as an African modern artist, used his practice to develop a new kind of modern art whose ideals of representation and notions of artistic identity were different from conventional art-historical narratives of European modernist practice.
Christopher Uchefuna Okeke (1933–2016), known as Uche Okeke, was a contemporary Nigerian artist. Between 1940 and 1953, he attended St. Peter Claver’s (Primary) School, Kafanchan, Metropolitan College, Onitsha, and Bishop Shanahan College, Orlu, during which time he had already begun to demonstrate an avid interest in drawing and painting. Before being admitted to the Fine Arts program at Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in 1958, Okeke—together with Yusuf Grillo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko, and others—inaugurated the Zaria Art Society. In that same year, he opened a cultural center in Kafanchan that later became the Asele Institute, Nimo, which hosted many cultural activities.
In the early 1970s, Okeke was appointed lecturer and acting head of the Fine Arts Department at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he introduced many new courses into the Igbo Uli art tradition. In 1973, he also designed the first course program of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, and initiated postgraduate courses in the Department of Fine Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
The Négritude Movement
Négritude is an artistic, literary, and ideological philosophy developed by francophone African intellectuals, writers, and politicians in France during the 1930s. Its initiators included Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor (a future President of Senegal), and Léon Damas of French Guiana. Négritude intellectuals disapproved of French colonialism and claimed that the best strategy to oppose it was to encourage a common racial identity for black Africans worldwide. They included the Marxist ideas they favored as part of this philosophy. The writers generally used a realist literary style, and some say they were also influenced somewhat by the Surrealism style; in 1932, their manifesto “Murderous Humanitarianism” was signed by prominent Surrealists including the Martiniquans Pierre Yoyotte and J. M. Monnerot.
The term négritude was meant to be provocative, as it took its roots from a word that was used exclusively in a racist context within France. Negritude sought to re-claim and appropriate the word. The term was first used in its present sense by Césaire, in the third issue of L’Étudiant noir, a magazine he had started in Paris with fellow students Léopold Senghor and Léon Damas, as well as Gilbert Gratiant, Leonard Sainville, Louis T. Achille, Aristide Maugée, and Paulette Nardal. L’Étudiant noir also includes Césaire’s first published work, Conscience Raciale et Révolution Sociale with the heading “Les Idées” and the rubric “Négreries,” which is notable for its disavowal of assimilation as a valid strategy for resistance and for its use of the word nègre as a positive term. The problem with assimilation, Césaire argued, was that one assimilated into a culture that considered African culture to be barbaric and unworthy of being seen as “civilized.” The assimilation into this culture would have been seen as an implicit acceptance of this view. Nègre previously had been used mainly in a pejorative sense, but Césaire deliberately incorporated this derogatory word into the name of his philosophy.
Contemporary African Art
The countries throughout Africa are home to many diverse and thriving contemporary arts cultures.
Identify the leading artists, styles, and exhibitions of contemporary African art
- Contemporary African art was pioneered in the 1950s and 1960s in South Africa by artists like Irma Stern, Cyril Fradan, and Walter Battiss and through galleries such as the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg.
- Many contemporary African artists are represented in museum collections, and their art may sell for high prices at art auctions. Despite this, many contemporary African artists tend to have difficult times finding a market for their work.
- Many contemporary African arts borrow heavily from traditional predecessors. Ironically, this emphasis on abstraction is seen by Westerners as an imitation of European and American cubist and totemic artists, which itself was influenced by traditional African art in the 20th century.
- A wide range of more traditional forms of art, or adaptations of traditional style to contemporary taste, are made for sale to tourists and others, including so-called “airport art.”
- airport art: Traditional forms of African art or adaptations of traditional style to contemporary taste made for sale to tourists.
- Documenta 11: An exhibition of modern and contemporary art that takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany; this particular iteration in 2002 was organized around themes such as migration, urbanization, and post-colonialism.
The countries throughout Africa are home to many thriving contemporary art cultures. This has been unfortunately understudied until recently, due to scholars’ and art collectors’ emphasis on traditional art from the region. Notable modern artists include El Anatsui, Marlene Dumas, William Kentridge, Karel Nel, Kendell Geers, Yinka Shonibare, Zerihun Yetmgeta, Odhiambo Siangla, Olu Oguibe, Lubaina Himid, Bili Bidjocka, and Henry Tayali. Art biennials are held in Dakar, Senegal, and Johannesburg, South Africa. Many contemporary African artists are represented in museum collections, and their art may sell for high prices at art auctions; however, other artists have difficult times finding a market for their work.
Development of Contemporary Art
Many contemporary African arts borrow heavily from traditional predecessors. Ironically, their emphasis on abstraction is seen by Westerners as an imitation of European and American cubist and totemic artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and Henri Matisse, who, in the early 20th century, were heavily influenced by traditional African art. This period was critical to the evolution of Western modernism in visual arts, symbolized by Picasso’s breakthrough painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Contemporary African art was pioneered in the 1950s and 1960s in South Africa by artists like Irma Stern, Cyril Fradan, and Walter Battiss and through galleries such as the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. More recently, European galleries such as the October Gallery in London and collectors such as Jean Pigozzi, Artur Walther, and Gianni Baiocchi in Rome have helped expand the interest in the subject. Numerous exhibitions at the Museum for African Art in New York and the African Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, which showcased the Sindika Dokolo African Collection of Contemporary Art, have gone a long way to countering many of the myths and prejudices that haunt contemporary African art. When Okwui Enwezor from Nigeria was appointed as artistic director of the international exhibition Documenta 11, his African-centered vision of art propelled the careers of countless African artists onto the international stage.
A wide range of more traditional forms of art, or adaptations of traditional style to contemporary taste, are made for sale to tourists and others, including so-called “airport art.” A number of vigorous popular traditions assimilate Western influences into African styles, such as the elaborate fantasy coffins in shapes such as airplanes, cars, or animals of West African cities and the banners of clubs.
Gilbert G. Groud
Gilbert G. Groud (born 1956) is a painter, illustrator, and author from Toulépleu, Côte d’Ivoire. Groud is active against the military use of children in his homeland Côte d’Ivoire and the world in general. He is working on the preparation of several exhibitions and writes a comic book about the topic of child soldiers to increase awareness. He has released one of the pictures of the exhibition on creative commons license in the hope that it will be used in ending the use of children in war.
El Anatsui (born in 1944) is a Ghanaian sculptor active for much of his career in Nigeria. He has drawn particular international attention in recent years for his iconic “bottle-top installations,” distinctive large-scale assemblages of thousands of pieces of aluminium sourced from alcohol recycling stations and sewn together with copper wire, transformed into metallic cloth-like wall sculptures in a way that links the themes of consumerism, waste, and the environment.
Yinka Shonibare (born 1962) is a British-Nigerian artist living in London. His work explores cultural identity, colonialism, and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalization. A hallmark of his art is the brightly colored fabric he uses. Having a physical disability that paralyzes one side of his body, Shonibare uses assistants to make works under his direction. Shonibare’s work explores issues of colonialism alongside those of race and class, through a range of media including painting, sculpture, photography, installation art, and, more recently, film and performance. He examines, in particular, the construction of identity and the tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe and their respective economic and political histories.
Yoruba Artwork in the transAfrican Context
Over the years, many Yoruban artists have merged foreign and contemporary influences with the traditional art forms found in West Africa.
Identify the traditional Yoruba references found in contemporary Trans-African style art
- The Yoruba people of South Western Africa have a rich and vibrant artisan community, creating both traditional and contemporary art.
- The traditional art forms among the Yoruba include beading, braiding, tattooing, clay molding and ceramic work, bronze casting, weaving and dyeing (such as the traditional adire indigo-dyed cloth), sculpting, and others.
- Over the years, many Yoruba artists have come to merge foreign ideas of artistry and contemporary art with the traditional art forms found in West Africa.
- The transAfrican style of art was manifest in the work of Jeff Donaldson, an African American visual artist whose work helped define the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
- Many works within the transAfrican style of art are filled with references to Yoruba traditions and styles and are characterized by rhythmic use of lines, vibrant colors, bold patterns, motion, and often an emotional intensity.
- yoruba: An ethnic group of West Africa.
- Ifá: A religion and system of divination; refers to the verses of the literary corpus known as the Odu Ifá.
- Black Arts Movement: The artistic branch of the Black Power movement, started in Harlem by writer and activist Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones).
- orisha: A deity that reflects one of the manifestations of the Supreme Divinity (Eledumare, Olorun, Olofi) in Yoruba religion.
- transAfrican: Belonging to a style of work coined by Jeff Donaldson in the 1960s, aiming to synthesize an all-encompassing transnational aesthetic and unify the then-fragmented concept of black art.
The Yoruba of South Western Africa (including the areas known today as Benin Republic, Nigeria, Togo, and parts of Ghana, Cameroon, and Sierra Leone) have a very rich and vibrant artisan community, creating both traditional and contemporary art. The custom of art and artisans among the Yoruba is deeply rooted in the Ifá literary corpus, indicating the orishas (or dieties) Ogun, Obatala, Oshun, and Obalufon as central to creation mythology, including artistry.
The traditional art forms among the Yoruba include beading, braiding, tattooing, clay molding and ceramic work, bronze casting, weaving and dyeing (such as the traditional adire indigo-dyed cloth), sculpting, and many other forms. There is also a vibrant form of customary theater known as Alarinjo, which has its roots in the medieval period and has given much to the contemporary Nigerian film industry. Over the years, many Yoruba artists have come to merge foreign ideas of artistry and contemporary art with the traditional art forms found in West Africa.
The transAfrican Style in Yoruba Art
The transAfrican style of art was manifest in the work of Jeff Donaldson, an African American visual artist whose work helped define the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In the midst of the racial and cultural turmoil of the 1960s, a group of African-American artists endeavored to relate its artwork to the black masses. Aiming to use art for social impact, artists such as Jeff Donaldson strived to create an “art for the people:” an art form that was recognizable by and directed toward everyday people, rather than a group of well-educated elite. Within his works and collaborative efforts, Donaldson essentially became the founder of the new, uniting aesthetic known as transAfricanism. TransAfrican art is characterized by rhythmic use of lines, vibrant colors, bold patterns, motion, and often an emotional intensity. Much work made within the transAfrican style borrows heavily from Yoruba traditions.
One of his key works, Victory in the Valley of Eshu (1970), depicts an elderly black couple holding what appears to be an eye-shaped pinwheel. The work is filled with Yoruba and traditional African references, including the Yoruba Sango dance wand in the right hand of the man, references to deified ancestors (a Yoruba belief), the name Esu (the Yoruba god of fate), and others. The newly prominent element of shine, an aesthetic effect mimicking or displaying physical shine in order to reflect the bright, star-like quality of ordinary African Americans, is also visible in this piece. This effect achieves the celebration aspect of black art: an art that, as stated by Donaldson, defines, glorifies, and directs black people—an art for the people’s sake.
The notion of shine is conveyed through the collection of small dots of color in the figures’ hair and surrounding their bodies. Additionally, the hair of the couple seem to mimic halos. These elements, in combination with the couple’s bright white clothing, complete the celebration of the ordinary in this African diasporic work. The little splotches and dots of color seem to emanate from the bodies and to dance their way around the edges of the portrait, conveying that notion of a rhythmic motion, which was integral in transAfrican work.
Domestic Architecture in Modern Africa
African architecture is exceptionally diverse from region to region and has had numerous external influences.
Evaluate the influences of Baroque, Arab, Turkish, and Gujarati Indian architectural styles on traditional African architecture
- Traditional African architecture uses a wide range of materials, including thatch, stick/wood, mud, mudbrick, rammed earth, and stone, with a preference for materials varying by region.
- During the early modern period, new and diverse influences such as Baroque, Arab, Turkish, and Gujarati Indian style began to be absorbed into African architecture.
- By the late 19th century, most buildings reflected the European preference for eclectic and mixed styles, taking from Mediterranean and northern European influence.
- The revival of interest in traditional styles can be traced back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, as colonial buildings began to mix European and vernacular African styles of architecture.
- Modern architecture expanded through the 1920s and 1930s, while today a great deal of domestic architecture reflects a fusion between modern and neo-vernacular styles.
- eclectic: Unrelated and unspecialized; heterogeneous.
- vernacular architecture: A category of architecture based on localized needs and construction materials, and reflecting local traditions.
The architecture of Africa, like that of any vast region or continent, is exceptionally diverse. Many ethno-linguistic groups throughout the history of Africa have had their own architectural traditions. As with most architectural traditions elsewhere, African architecture has been subject to numerous external influences from the earliest periods for which evidence is available. The Islamic conquest of North Africa saw the development of Islamic architecture in the region; western architecture has had an impact on coastal areas since the late 15th century, and is now an important source for many buildings, particularly in major cities.
One common theme in a great deal of traditional African architecture is the use of fractal scaling: small parts of the structure tend to look similar to larger parts, such as a circular village made of circular houses. Vernacular architecture uses a wide range of materials, such as thatch, stick/wood, mud, mudbrick, rammed earth, and stone, with a preference for materials varying by region. North Africa primarily used stone and rammed earth; West Africa tends toward mud and adobe; central Africa uses thatch, wood, and more perishable materials; southern Africa uses stone, thatch, and wood; and in East Africa the materials have varied.
Ten broad categories of traditional hut and house structures have been identified throughout Africa:
- Domical (beehive)
- Cone on cylinder
- Cone on poles and mud cylinder
- Gabled roofed
- Pyramidal cone
- Rectangle with roof rounded and sloping at ends
- Dome or flat roof on clay box
- Quadrangular, surrounding an open courtyard
- Cone on ground
Early Modern Period
During the early modern period, the absorption of new diverse influences such as Baroque, Arab, Turkish, and Gujarati Indian styles began with the arrival of Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. Castles were built by arriving colonizers as defensive fortresses during times of war. Early Europeans invaded and set up colonies around the West African coast, building large forts that can now be seen at Elmina Castle, Cape Coast Castle, Christiansborg, Fort Jesus, and elsewhere.
Under colonial rule, the tradition of building houses out of mud walls, thatched roofs, and other traditional materials decreased while the use of cement blocks and zinc roofs became more common. By the late 19th century, most buildings reflected the European preference for eclectic and mixed styles, taking from Mediterranean and northern European influence. Examples of colonial towns from this era survive at Saint-Louis, Senegal, Grand-Bassam, and elsewhere. A few buildings were pre-fabricated in Europe and shipped over for erection. This European tradition continued well into the 20th century with the construction of European-style manor houses, such as Shiwa Ng’andu in what is now Zambia and the Boer homesteads in South Africa.
The revival of interest in traditional styles can be traced to Cairo in the early 19th century. Afterward, it spread to Algiers and Morocco by the early 20th century, and soon colonial buildings across the continent began to mix European and traditional African styles of architecture.
The impact of modern architecture began to be felt in the 1920s and 1930s. Le Corbusier (Algeria), Steffen Ahrens (South Africa), and Ernst May (Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya) were influential architects at the time. Villages in Libya and Italian East Africa began to incorporate modern Italian designs.
A number of new cities were built following the end of colonialism, while others were greatly expanded. In the city of Abidjan, the majority of buildings were still designed by high-profile non-African architects. Experimental designs have also appeared, most notably the Eastgate Centre, Harare in Zimbabwe. With an advanced form of natural air conditioning, this building was designed to respond precisely to Harare’s climate and needs, rather than import less suitable designs. Neo-vernacular architecture (or new forms of vernacular architecture) continues, for instance, with the Great Mosques of Nioro or New Gourna.