• Neil Allen

Fr Roten Blog #33: Nigeria

One People Unknown artist

 Nigeria, its northern regions in particular, has a very ancient and rich artistic tradition. In the present it has produced exquisite Christian artwork in wood, ivory, brass and bronze, clay and terra-cotta. Who is not familiar with the fine arts center of Oye Ekiti, and with names of artists such as Agbana, Opa, Areogun and Dada? Who does not remember the wooden bas-reliefs of the Gruffanti chapel, and the delicately worked ornamentation of Agbana's crèches? The Yoruba tradition has inexhaustible artistic treasures in store for those among its many artists who seek to combine indigenous art and Christian iconography. But then there is also the popular and anonymous craftsmanship which imitates and simplifies great art. Its modest products have mainly narrative character, multiplying artistically unassuming figures to create collective impressions and mass scenes. Take for example this nativity set crafted in light and malleable thorn wood. The individual figure is without proper personality. It remains schematic and anonymous, except when taking its place within the group to which it belongs: as musician, warrior-shepherd, as oarsman or wise men. Thus, this nativity set highlights the communitarian dimension of African life. In the midst of several groupings of people stands the huddled group of the holy family easily overlooked and forgotten. But in fact it is not, for all the little people are moving toward them from the four directions. The burning sun, the eerie tree, the red bridge, and the temple on the mountain are colorful distractions, but they do not divert the attention from the leitmotif of this nativity, which is that of all and any nativity: peace on earth to all of good will. However different by race or birth, in Jesus Christ we are one people.

Reprinted with permission: University of Dayton - Marian Library Collection. All rights reserved.

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