The story of the beginning of the creative foraging in art in Nigeria is never much different from what is obtainable in various parts of the inhabited world.
The story of art could be simply put as the story of civilization and evolution of man. Most of the materials and clues employed by ethnographers and anthropologists in reconstructing the story of the early man are largely based on the artistic objects and instruments left behind by the early man.
Therefore, to study the art of the political entity known as Nigeria today, one must seek first to keep abreast of the peoples that make up Nigeria and their cultural origins prior to the coming of British colonialism which signaled the beginning of the formal historic recording of the heterogeneous people that was later brought under one umbrella called Nigeria mostly for the purpose of effective governance by the British imperialists.
Consequently, since Nigeria today is more of a political sovereign entity rather than a singular culturally uniform group of people, it is important to study the arts of the different people that were brought together to answer Nigeria, since the country is made up of over 250 ethnic groups and languages.
Art in Pre-Colonial Nigeria
Almost all the ethnic people that make up Nigeria practise one form of art or the other. Like in most African societies, to the early Nigerians, art is inseparable from their religion. Art is seen as the agency through which their religion is given expression; it carries the essence of their religion.
Therefore, prior to the coming of the colonial masters, Nigeria was a melting pot of artistic explorations, since they practised their traditional religion to the fullest and without hindrance. The early Nigerians used their art to interpret their world as they saw it, as well as using it to concretize their cosmological views on life and esoteric ideas. They employed art in the various cultural celebrations and ceremonies and special commemorations because of the Pantheist nature of the traditional religion.
The early Nigerian society produced a large collection of ancestral images and gods while spirit entities, natural forces and elements such as wind, fire, water and land were given recognition as possessing spiritual authority and required reverence. They, therefore, made art objects to represent the essence and attributes of these supposed forces. This they did with hope of subduing or at least appeasing them and in some cases, harness this power and by so doing be able to bring them under some sort of control or form some kind of pact with them. This practice is not far different from the magical meanings adduced to the cave paintings discovered in Lascaux, France.
Therefore, for the purpose of this article, it will be best to stick to a selected number of artistic media generally used by the major artistic flashpoints in the country. Fortunately, these flashpoints also represent in no particular order, the major cultural groups with the most extant collection of traditional works of art.
A close study of the traditional art in Nigeria shows that most of the artifacts and cultural pieces produced by the different cultural groups are largely grouped within the boundaries of these mediums: stones, terracotta, woods, bronze, paintings and crafts.
Esie and Ikom Stone Sculptures:
Though Esie is a predominantly Yoruba community, the origin and identity of the makers of the stone sculptures have remained in obscurity crystallising into different mythological stories by the community. Therefore, in a bid to unravel the mystery behind their identity, ethnographers, anthropologists and archeologists have made concerted efforts in different directions in order to explain the works. The findings of many researchers have, however, established the following facts; the Esie stone sculpture is a composition of about a thousand soap stone sculptures depicting both human and zoomorphic features. The human figures represent people engaged in various human daily activities. The stone sculptures represent a cosmopolitan collection of different cultures with features such as sophisticated hair styles, dresses, tribal marks, necklaces and bracelets with multiple cultural traits that connect them with different ethnic groups surrounding the area.
The Esie stone works are also recognised as the largest collection of stone carving in Africa.
Ikom monoliths of Cross River State represent the second yet known largest collection of a handful stone sculptures. The stone works are found in an area inhabited by the Ekoi people along the bank of Cross River. The Ikom figures are generally that of humans and are highly geometricised. Measuring between 2 to 6 ft, the appearance of beards in all the figures clearly shows that most of them are males. Scientific researches on this works date them to around 200AD.
In Nigeria, almost every cultural group possesses one form of terracotta art or the other. In fact, most parts of Nigeria have one form of sculptural tradition or another especially around the southern part of the country. Nevertheless, the picture starts changing as one gradually moves towards the Northern part of the country. The Nok culture is dated to have flourished between the years 2000BC and 300AD, making it the oldest form of traditional art not just in Nigeria but West Africa.
The followings are the stylistic characters of Nok Art: complicated coiffure, high geometricism with cylindrical heads, perforated eyes, nose, mouths and ears, semi-circular and triangular eyes and lids and so on.
Asides from the Nok culture, the Ife-Terracotta works are another notable ancient traditional art emanating from South Western Nigeria. Dating as far back as 12-15 century A.D. Ife art is located at the heart of Yoruba ancestry.
Scholars have for long established that Nigeria possesses the largest collection of sculptural works in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of these art works are done in wood and are applied to different uses. Also, this was possible due to the diversity in cultural abundance and most importantly as a result of the surplus abundance of timber made possible by the country‘s location within the tropical rainforest region of Africa. Therefore, almost all cultural groups in Nigeria possess one form of wood carving tradition with notable styles and characteristics particular to them.
Most ethnic groups in Nigeria have a tradition of carving ancestral figures. In Yoruba land, they have Ibeji figures. These figures are done to celebrate the birth or death of twins in Yoruba tradition. It is backed by the people’s belief that twins are powerful spirits who are capable of bringing wealth to their families or misfortune to those who do not honour them.
To the Igbos of the South-Eastern Nigeria, one of the most popular and significant ancestral figures come in the form of Ikenga wood carvings. Ikenga is usually used to denote the power of a man’s right hand and his accomplishments. It is represented usually by a figure holding different things such as horns and swords. This practice of Ikenga carving has penetrated other cultures around the Igbos, such as the Edo who call it Ikengaobo and the Igala who call it Okega.
Doors & Wooden Posts
The Yorubas have a rich tradition of carved wooden posts and carved chip doors. This style of carving was so highly developed that guild of carvers and artists was developed around it. It was through this informal system of traditional art society education that gave birth to 20th century artists like the famous Olowo of Ise who many scholars have acclaimed as the most important Yoruba artist of the 20th century because of his virtuosity and dexterity in the niche of carved wooden doors and house posts.
Similarly, the Igbos also have a developed system of wood carving of doors and house posts. In the past, the houses of highly placed individuals and the affluent were embellished with these works. In fact, it was used to identify the extent of wealth and social importance of individuals. The Awka guild of carvers was found in Anambra State.
Igbo-Ukwu, Ife and Benin Bronze Traditions
The Igbo-Ukwu bronze tradition is, unarguably, one of the most celebrated contributions of the Igbo race to African artistic and technological heritage. The origin of the technology and knowledge of metal working as displayed by the complicated and intricate designs employed in Igbo-Ukwu bronze findings still baffles scholars till date. The Igbo-Ukwu art heritage is reputed to be the oldest bronze sculpture tradition in Sub-Saharan Africa, dated to about 9th century A.D.
The ancient city of Ife is widely acclaimed by the Yorubas as the birth place or the ancestral home of the Yoruba people. Many of the ancient Ife artefacts today have been traced to the dynasty of the Ife King, Oba Obalufon II who is highly regarded as patron of the arts. One notable characteristic of the Ife art is the emphasis on the size of the head as being the centre of knowledge, symbol of ego and destiny and so on. The Ife artists therefore do not observe the rules of proportion in producing their figures but rather the heads usually are made a little larger than the rest of the body; sometimes in the ratio of 1:4.
Another notable characteristic of the Ife art is in the use of small holes to indicate beards and hairlines of the masks and faces, and the presence of prominent scarification lines running vertically across the whole face.
The Ifes were also adept in their mastery of copper and its alloys and they produced a handful of works using the material. They also produced terracotta works. Because the Ifes strived to produce art works that pleased the Obas, great effort was put into their production to achieve striking naturalism. This naturalism is one of the most notable attributes of the Ife copper heads which have their facial features well articulated to true representation of the individuals depicted.
Of all the bronze casting traditions found in Nigeria, Benin ranks as the most popular, known world over. They are most famous for the great attention to details, masterly craftsmanship and dexterity with which they were executed. The inventiveness of the Benin civilization and art was first brought to Western public view following the infamous punitive British invasion of the kingdom in the year 1897, which saw a great number of Benin artefacts carted away by the British soldiers as war booties.
The ancient Benin people, like their Yoruba counterparts placed great importance on the head as a chief part of the body; they therefore believe that the head is imbued with spiritual energy (ehi) deposited by the creator; Osanobua and his eldest son, Olokun. This is probably the reason why the Benins have a massive repertoire of bronze heads of their Obas donning their royal regalia.
The art of the Benin people, like most Nigerian cultures, is not without the influence of neighbouring tribes. Consequently, the Benins trace their bronze casting origin to the great Yoruba town of Ife, from where a man came and taught them different bronze casting techniques. Also, the Benin art was influenced by the naturalistic style of the Ifes.
Contemporary Nigerian Art
Following the dawn of independence in Nigeria, artistic foraging has continued to flourish, leading to the flowering of a multiplicity of contemporary styles in art production. Through the acquisition of formal Western art education, and drawing inspirations from the rich cultural motifs, Nigerian art scene has become more individualised, detribalised and universal with little common traditional traits still noticeable in the corpus of works addressed today as contemporary Nigerian Art.
Globalisation influences and current socio-cultural and political issues have contributed to a proliferation of styles and techniques. Nevertheless, the state of contemporary art in Nigeria is in a continuous flux and remains ever vibrant, opening up more vistas for artistic expression in a world resplendent with multiplicity of media and styles.
By: Moses Njoku
Njoku is of the Affinity Art Gallery, Lagos.
‘Skills Acquisition, Key To Youth Empowerment’
The problem of youth empowerment and employment is a world wide phenomenon,although it is very topical amongst countries of the developing world. Confronted by the scourge,the United Nations recognised the need for a frontal tackling of the menace by drawing world attention to it.
The world, recently celebrated World Youth Skills Day. A day set aside to celebrate the strategic importance of equpping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship.
As the world undergoes rapid technological economic and societal transformations, young people will need the right skills to successfully navigate these challenges and achieve their full potentials.
Celebrations were held all over the world with special programmes and events organised by the United Nations.
On the occasion of the 2023 World Youth Skills Day, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, emphasised the need for quality education and described the acquisition of skills as a neccessity for the next generation.
According to him, “Equipping young people with quality education, training and skills are essential. This World Youth Skills Day reminds us all that teachers stand at the forefront of this global effort “.
With the 2023 theme: “Skilling teachers, trainers and youth for a transformative future” ,this highlights the essential role that teachers, trainers and other educators play in providing skills for youth to transit to the labour market and to actively engage in their communities and societies.
Here in Rivers State, youth unemployment remains a major issue. Despite efforts by the Rivers State Government to address the problem through employment opportunities, a lot of youths remain unemployable due to lack of skills.
To address the obvious lack of skills among young people, schools and institutions are now adopting strategies to ensure that even graduates are empowered with one skill or the other. It was for this reason that the Rivers State University, Nkpolu Oroworukwo, Port Harcourt introduced a new Faculty of Entrepreneurial Studies aimed at empowering students and graduands with skills.
Similarly, the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education in Port Harcourt also set out to bolster entrepreneurship education to prepare students to launch themselves out on their own as industry – ready graduates.
Even at the post primary level of education, attempts are on to ensure that students are equipped with skills to enable them become independent.This is something that needs to be encouraged generally.
In an interview with The Tide ,Director of Carina International School, Port Harcourt, Pastor Jeff Anika, thanked the United Nations for highlighting a day like this for youths on skills acquisition.
Anika stated that his school encourages and emphasises on skills training for students, especially in the secondary section.
According to him,”we are into skills training especially at the secondary section, we train the children in Computer skills, Sewing/Fashion Design, Cookery, Fine Arts,among others. The trainings are done in the school by invited resource persons or outside the school in collaboration with the trainers.
We are doing this to help our students gain training that will help them later in life.
You can see,the way the society is going, skill is vital for these young ones to survive. Looking for white collar job is tough. Getting a skill in addition to their degree certificate gives them an edge above others”, he said.
In a seperate interview, a fourth year Marine Engineering student of Rivers State University (RSU) Miss Scotia Princewill,said skills training and acquisition is very important for young people in order to contribute their quota in society and empower themselves.
She explained that some parents before now encouraged their children to acquire skills during holidays but with the celebration of a skills day by the United Nationd there should be more enlightenment for parents,guardians, government and corporate bodies to help train the youth.
Miss Princewill also said that, she was in the process of acquiring a skills in computer programming to be precise, web development,adding that RSU now offers a compulsory 300 level entrepreneurship course for every student before graduation.
”This is a good thing happening in our University. We have a big centre for entrepreneurship for students to engage in a skill at 300 level before graduation. I opted for electrical fittings though we were taught the theoretical aspect”,she said.
World Youth Skills Day celebrated every year on July 15 was established by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)in 2014 to acknowledge the crucial significance of equipping young individuals with necessary skill sets for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship.
Given the advancements in technology and ever – evolving nature of the job market, it has become increasingly important to empower young people with adaptable and versatile skill sets. World Youth Skills Day 2023 is an opportunity to emphasise the role of skills development in enabling the youth to thrive in the economy.
Some of the programmes for this year’s day by the UN include, Youth Lead Innovation Sportlight Virtual programme that convened a dialogue on the importance of multi shareholders collaboration to enable future- proof skills for youth through trainers’ and teachers’ empowerment.
Empowering youth for a Sustainable Future in Bonn,Germany, hybrid event co – organised by UNESCO – UNEVOC and World Skills International which showcased the positive impact of youth skills development on societies and economies.
Also, a high level panel at New York, UN headquarters, ECOSOC Chamber which was organised by the Permanent Missions of Portugal and Sri Lanka to the United Nations in collaboration with UNESCO, ILO,and the office of the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth which brought together member States, young experts, social partners, teachers, educators and various stakeholders on the way forward for youths for a transformative future.
By: Ibinabo Ogolo
How Brain Inflammation May Aid Autism
Autism, a disease of serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability of a person to communicate and interact, may be caused by inflammation of the brains of young people, according to research published in Science Translational Medicine recently.
Prior to the origins of many neurodevelopment disorders, which remain uncertain, the new study of post-modern brain tissue from children who died between the ages of one and five has shown how inflammation affects the brain.
For the first time, researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) discovered that inflammation alters the development of vulnerable brain cells and this could have mechanistic links to neurodevelopmental disorders and could lead to treatments for many different childhood – on set neurodevelopmental disorders.
The UMSOM’s Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS), Department of Pharmacology and the University of Maryland Medicine Institute of Neuroscience Discovery (UM – MIND) conducted the research. The study is part of a collection of nearly 30 papers describing the development and diversity of cell types in the human brain.
Though previous research had shown that babies born with abnormalities of the cerebellum frequently go on to experience neurodevelopmental disorders, the new study specifically looked at the cerebellum because it is one of the first brain regions to begin developing and one of the last to reach its maturity, but remained understudied.
The lead author of the research team, IGS Scientist and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UMSOM, Seth Ament, Ph.D, stated that, “with the fairly new technology of single nucleus RNA sequencing, we could look at the cell level and see changes in the brain”. Also, the Co – Leader of the research team, the James and Carolyn Frenkil Dean’s Professor and Chair in Pharmacology and Director of UM – MIND, Margaret McCarthy, Ph.D,added, “This has never been done before in this age group and in the context of inflammation. The gene expression in the cerebella of children and inflammation were remarkably consistent”.
From the report, the researchers examined donated post mortem brain tissues of 17 children who died when they were one to five years old, eight from conditions that involved inflammation and nine from accidents.
None of the donors had been diagnosed with a neurological disorder prior to death. The two groups were similar in age, gender, race/ethnicity and time since death. These unique brain tissue specimens had been collected over many years by UMSOM researchers at the University of Maryland Brain and Tissue Bank.
According to the study, two specific, yet rare types of cerebellar neurons were most vulnerable to brain inflammation – the Golgi and Purkinje neutrons. At the single cell level, these two types of neurons showed premature disruption of their maturation.
Dr Ament said, “although rare, Purkinje and Golgi neutrons have critical functions. During development, Purkinje neurons form synapses connecting the cerebellum to other brain regions involved in cognition or emotional control, while Golgi neurons coordinate communication between cells within the cerebellum. Disruption of either of these developmental processes could explain how inflammation contributes to conditions like autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia”.
Also, the UMSOM Dean, who is also Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore, Dr. Mark Gladwin said, “this study is one of the first to show that gene expression challenges during inflammation which may set the stage for later cellular dysfunction,such as reducing synaptic connectivity or altering energy metalbolism.
“It is critical to understand these mechanisms and changes at the cellular level during brain development in the hope that someday we can develop treatments for neurodevelopmental disorders “, stated a distinguished professor at UMSOM, Akiko Bowers.
However, more studies indicate that the rate of autism is rising. A growing area of research focuses on interaction of genetic and environmental factors. It is likely that a woman’s exposure to harmful contaminants during pregnancy may trigger a genetic mutation leading to autism in her child. No link has been found between autism and vaccines, including those containing thimerosal, a mercury based compound.
Other environmental factors that may be associated with autism include advanced parental age as at time of conception, pre natal exposure to air pollution or certain pesticides, maternal obesity, diabetes or immune system disorders, extreme prematurity or very low birth weight and any birth difficulty leading to periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain.
People with autism have trouble with communication . They have trouble understanding what other people think and feel. This makes it hard for them to express things, either with words or through gestures, facial expressions and touch.
People with autism may have problems with learning. Their skills might develop unevenly. They could have trouble communicating but be unusually good at art, music, mathematics or things that involve memory. Because of this, they might do especially well on tests of analysis or problem solving.
More children are diagnosed with autism now than ever. But the latest numbers could be higher because of changes in how its diagnosed, not because more children have the disorder.
According to Key Autism Statistics, as of 2023, in the US, around 1 in 36 children has been diagnosed with autism. Around 75 million people have autism spectrum disorder, that is 1 percent of the world’s population. 1 in 100 children are diagnosed with autism as of 2021. Autism prevalence has increased 178 percent since 2020. The country with the highest rate of diagnosed autism in the world is Qatar and the country with the lowest rate is France . Also, around 4 times as many boys have autism as girls.
By: Ibinabo Ogolo
Adolescents’ Health:Rivers Hosts National Campaign, Next Month
Over the years, Rivers State has been in the forefront among states in Nigeria, in promoting adolescent health. It is no wonder that the State has now been chosen by the Paediatric Association of Nigeria to host its first ever Adolescents and Young People’s Health campaign in Nigeria.
The campaign which has been tentatively fixed for next month in Port Harcourt is expected to attract adolescents, young people and parents to chart a way forward for the young, vulnerable and impressive minds.
Disclosing this in an exclusive interview with The Tide on the sidelines of the Third Quarter meeting of the Adolescents and Young People Technical Working Group of Rivers State Ministryof Health, the Chairperson of the group, Professor Ndieuto Akani stated that the key role and emphasis which Rivers State has made over the years on adolescents and young people was key in selecting the venue.
Prof Akani who is also the Head, Adolescent Section of the Paediatric Association of Nigeria said, “Rivers State was chosen by the association because the state has been viewed as the point where adolescent health has been promoted for years in Nigeria.
She also stated that the adolescent campaign is an off-shoot of the 1.8 billion young people for change campaign which took place round the globe from October 11 — 12 , 2023, noting that adolescents from different countries had spoken out their minds on what they want concerning their health and well-being.
“Here, in Nigeria, the Paediatric Association of Nigeria will hold its adolescents and young people’s campaign in Rivers State to help achieve policies, investments and actions on adolescents, health and well-being in Nigeria.
Prof. Akani however, called on government, partners and stakeholders to identify with the upcoming programme, upcoming adding that adolescents, paediatricians and health officers would attend the programme from other states in Nigeria.
She also urged the Rivers State Technical Working Group on Adolescents and Young People to collaborate with the Paediatric Association of Nigeria to flag off the 1.8 billion campaign on adolescents in the State.
Meanwhile, at the one-day third quarter and Young People Technical Working Group (AYPTWG) meeting held at Emerald Hotel in Port Harcourt, the Chairperson of the group, Professor Ndieuto Akani commended volunteers working in the three committees identified as priority areas as it concerns adolescent health in the State.
“Last year, we had a workshop with the Federal Ministry of Health in attendance. We identified three top problems confronting adolescents in Rivers State. These are drug abuse/ alcoholism, teenage pregnancy / unsafe abortion and violence and cultism. We went ahead to develop possible ways to solve these problems. Today, we now have volunteers to work in these three committees, to help achieve workable results.
Also, last year, we identified the need to involve parents and guardians in solving problems confronting adolescents. Parents have to know that they are part of these problems. They are the ones suffering it and we will achieve success faster if the parents are involved”, Akani, noted.”
According to her, “Since last year, the group has been soliciting for sponsorship for a parental conference in Rivers State. We had talked with the Ministry of Women Affairs, we also want to involve the Ministry of Youth Development and Ministry of Information and Communications. We are ready for the parental conference once we get sponsorship”.
In her remarks at the meeting, the Desk Officer, Adolescents and Young People Technical Working Group, Rivers State Ministry of Health, Mrs Mbreba Wokoma expressed satisfaction with the inputs of professional members that have volunteered to help tackle the three thematic areas affecting adolescents in the State.
She called on stakeholders, Non-Govermental Organisations (NGOs) and partners especially working within the space to help see how these problems affecting adolescents in the State can be reduced to the barest minimum.
According to her, “we are advocating a parental conference as part of the avenues to best minimise issues faced by adolescents and young people in the State.
Also, we are ready to work with the Paediatric Association of Nigeria for the adolescents campaign next month”.
A communique is expected to be released on the outcome of the one – day meeting.
Meanwhile, it is important to note that as of today, the world has more young people than at any time in history. Yet , most of today’s 1.8 billion adolescents and youths (ages 10 – 24 ) fall short of potential current policy and investment approaches which fail to meet their needs.
At the first ever Global Forum for Adolescents ( the world’s largest gathering for adolescent well-being) which took place on 11-12 October, 2023 online, is a bold global movement asking young people what they want for their health and wellbeing and building demand for decision makers to transform their answers into policies for world leaders to adopt and implement.
By: Ibinabo Ogolo
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