Igbo art (Igbo: Ǹkà Igbo) is any body of visual art originating from the Igbo people. The Igbo produce a wide variety of art including traditional figures, masks, artifacts and textiles, plus works in metals such as bronze. Artworks form the Igbo have been found from as early as 9th century with the bronze artifacts found at Igbo Ukwu.
Otherwise known as the Queen of Women, this mask represents a wealthy, senior wife and grandmother who commands enormous respect in the village. She embodies the ultimate feminine ideals of strength, wisdom, beauty, stature and dignity, and is a leader among women.
This mask is worn in performances that occur at funerals and ceremonies that purify the village and other communal places.
Agbogho mmuo, or Maiden Spirit masquerades perform annually during the dry season in the Nri-Awka area of northern Igboland. At these performances men dance as adolescent girls, miming and exaggerating the girls' beauty and comportment. The performance is also accompanied by musicians who sing tributes to both real and spirit maidens. The following are examples of quotes that may be heard during a performance :
Mmanwu si n’igwe: The masked spirit from the sky
Udemu na lenu: My fame is potent
These masks showcase an ideal image of an Igbo maiden. This ideal is made up by the smallness of a young girl’s features and the whiteness of her complexion, which is an indication that the mask is a spirit. This whiteness is created using a chalk substance used for ritually marking the body in both West Africa and the African Diaspora. The chalky substance is also used in uli design, created and exhibited on the skin of Igbo women. Some maiden spirit masks have elaborate coiffeurs, embellished with representations of hair combs, and other objects, modeled after late 19th century ceremonial hairstyles.
Igbo Ukwu (Bronzes)
Alice Apley says: "It is possible that the inhabitants of Igbo Ukwu had a metalworking art that flourished as early as the ninth century." (though this date remains controversial). Three sites have been excavated, revealing hundreds of ritual vessels and regalia castings of bronze or leaded bronze that are among the most inventive and technically accomplished bronzes ever made. The people of Igbo-Ukwu, ancestors of present-day Igbo, were the earliest smithers of copper and its alloys in West Africa, working the metal through hammering, bending, twisting, and incising. They are likely among the earliest groups of West Africans to employ the lost-wax casting techniques in the production of bronze sculptures. Oddly, evidence suggests that their metalworking repertory was limited and Igbo smiths were not familiar with techniques such as raising, soldering, riveting, and wire making, though these techniques were used elsewhere on the continent.
Uli drawings are strongly linear and lack perspective; they do, however, balance positive and negative space. Designs are frequently asymmetrical, and are often painted spontaneously. Uli generally is not sacred, apart from those images painted on the walls of shrines and created in conjunction with some community rituals.
The drawing of uli was once practiced throughout most of Igboland, although by 1970 it had lost much of its popularity, and was being kept alive by a handful of contemporary artists. It was usually practiced by women, who would decorate each other's bodies with dark dyes to prepare for village events, such as marriage, title taking, and funerals; designs would sometimes be produced for the most important market days as well. Designs would last about a week.
Gordon Campbell says
The Igbo use carved wooden panels as entrance to doorways into the compounds of titled members of the prestigious men`s association Ozo. Members of sufficiently high rank are entitled to commission sculptors to carve the panels. Carved doors and panels were also apparently adopted or used in the houses of wealthy families as a means of displaying wealth. Igbo doors are delicately carved with deeply cut abstract designs in striated and hatched patterns that catch the sunlight to produce high contrasts of light and shadow.
- Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art : guide to the collection. [Birmingham, Ala]: Birmingham Museum of Art. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5.
- Maiden Spirit (Agbogho Mmuo) Helmet Mask | Michael C. Carlos Museum
- Gordon Campbell, The Grove encyclopedia of decorative arts: Aalto to Kyoto pottery, Band 1 Oxford University Press, 2006 p.326
- GI Jones Photographic Archive of southeastern Nigeria