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

videos + essays

We're adding new content all the time!

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.”

Benin plaque: <em>Equestrian Oba and Attendants</em>
Benin plaque: Equestrian Oba and Attendants

This plaque depicting the Oba (king) and his imperial retinue hung outside the palace, detailing dynastic history.

Ikenga (Igbo peoples)
Ikenga (Igbo peoples)

These carved wooden figures have human faces but animal attributes, and reflected the achievements of their owners.

Olowe of Ise, veranda post (Yoruba peoples)
Olowe of Ise, veranda post (Yoruba peoples)

This equestrian king is clearly powerful, but he rests on a nude female figure from whom his power is derived.

Selected Contributors