Nigeria’s art traditions go back thousands of years. And while some of it was tied to religious purposes, there are many objects that are used for everyday purposes. Different tribes in Nigeria excelled at different arts, although there are many traditions that span the entire region.
Archaeologists have found evidence of pottery dating back to 100BC and terra cotta wares from about 800AD. Many of these pots have complicated carvings on them. In many cultures, the potters were women. Terra cotta was also used to make sculptures, but these statues and figurines were also made from other materials such as bronze, brass, and ceramic. The Nigerians also made masks out of bronze and copper as well.
Masks were also an important part of Nigerian culture. Most of these masks were made from wood and painted in a variety of styles. The Yoruba masks are probably the most well known (or at least the most well preserved). It’s thought that if you wear these masks at funerals or other ceremonies, then it appeases the gods. (Or at least your introvert soul.)
Nigerians are also known for their brightly colored cloths. The dyes are made from a number of natural plants in order to get the color they are looking for. There are differences in the dying and weaving techniques among different tribes. Of course, there are other smaller carvings and handicrafts that are also created by Nigerian artists: woodcarving, ivory carving, and woven baskets are also commonly found in the home.
There are many Nigerian artists who are quite known for their work in a variety of mediums. A few of the more prominent ones today include Victoria Udondian (painter, fashion designer), Emeka Okereke (painter, photographer), Adamu Waziri (animator for Bino & Fino), Karl Ohiri (photographer), Wura-Natasha Ogunji (performance artist), Lucy Azubuike (photographer, performance artist), Marcia Kure (painter), Adaku Utah (performance artist), Otobong Nkanga (photographer, painter, performance artist), and Nnenna Okore (sculptor).
Literature in Nigeria is mainly written in English, but there are many writers who write in a number of other regional languages like Hausa, Urhodo, Igbo, and Yoruba. Scholars have divided Nigerian literature into four periods. The earliest is known as the 14 Kingdoms (from about 10th–19th century), followed by the Sokoto Period (19th–20th centuries), Colonial Period (early part of the 20th century), and the Post-Independence Period (latter part of 20th century to today).
There were many writers who emerged from the earliest period who laid the groundwork for writers for centuries to come. Some of the most important writers to emerge from this period include Ibn Furtu (late 1500s), Muhammad ibn Masani (1600s), Abdullahi Suka (1600s), and Sheikh Jibril ibn Umar (1700s).
Today, there have been many 20th and 21st century writers who have had a tremendous impact on not on Nigerian and Anglophone literature in and of itself but on an international level as well. Probably one of the most well-known authors from Nigeria is Chinua Achebe. I (and probably most college English majors) had to read his famous novel Things Fall Apart. And while I tried to fake my way through the book at the time (that’s what you get when you double major in English and Music), I went back years later and re-read it for real. And I ended up reading No Longer at Ease and Arrow of God after that. He’s sometimes referred to as the Father of Modern African Literature. In 2007, he was awarded the Man Booker prize for his lifetime achievement and influences to African literature.
Another Nigerian author worth mentioning is Wole Soyinka. He has written many plays but also several memoirs, poetry collections, essays, and a couple of novels. Although he mainly writes in English, he is a Yoruba speaker. Soyinka was recognized for his contributions to literature in 1986 as he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. This made him the first African to be awarded this prize.
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