The art of Nigeria

From the Kingdom of Benin to the arts of the Yoruba, Nigeria is home to ancient and vibrant art traditions.

c. 15th century - present

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Benin Art: Patrons, Artists and Current Controversies
Benin Art: Patrons, Artists and Current Controversies

Royal patrons, artists, and power in the Kingdom of Benin.

The Imagery of Power on Benin Bronze Plaques
The Imagery of Power on Benin Bronze Plaques

The audience hall in the palace in Benin City communicated to visiting ambassadors, traders, courtiers, and subjects the power and wealth of the Oba, or king.

Olowe of Ise, Veranda Post of Enthroned King and Senior Wife
Olowe of Ise, Veranda Post of Enthroned King and Senior Wife

The convention of elongating the figure can be seen in many of Olowe’s carvings, to visually highlight the importance of the head that holds the inner spiritual power, dignity and strength, and sacredness of one’s destiny.

Benin Plaques
Benin Plaques

How to impress your courtiers: a lesson from the Kingdom of Benin

Benin ivory mask (Edo peoples)
Benin ivory mask (Edo peoples)

This mask depicts the king’s mother, whose ruthless political prowess ensured that her son became king.

Ere Ibeji Figures (Yoruba peoples)
Ere Ibeji Figures (Yoruba peoples)

The high rate of twining among the Yoruba peoples gave birth to a genre of spiritual objects for mourning parents.

Queen Mother Pendant Mask (Iyoba) (Edo peoples)
Queen Mother Pendant Mask (Iyoba) (Edo peoples)

This intricate ivory mask symbolizes the king’s dual nature as human and divine—and honors his mother.

Ife uncovered
Ife uncovered

Little was known of the Ife civilization—that is until seventeen cast bronze heads were found by chance.

Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa
Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa

Ife’s refined and highly naturalistic sculptural tradition was unlike anything else in Africa at the time.

Benin and the Portuguese
Benin and the Portuguese

Benin’s brass-casting tradition combined West African smelting techniques with imported brass from Europe.

The Kingdom of Benin
The Kingdom of Benin

The Benin bronzes created a stir, completely changing European understanding of African history.

Uche Okeke
Uche Okeke

Nigerian independence inspired artists to develop a new national and artistic identity based on “natural synthesis.”

Selected Contributors