Johnson Adelani Abodunrin (PhD)  
Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Ladoke Akintola, University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Nigeria  
ABSTRACT: Paintings in Nigeria are characterized with various indigenous forms  
Original Article  
and materials which differentiate it from its counterpart all over the world. Over the  
years, there have been issues of identifying what makes Nigeria painting in form and  
content. However, this paper focuses on the highlight of the indigenous forms in  
Nigeria painting with a view of bringing into bear what constitutes pattern of forms  
from different geographical sphere of Nigeria. This paper observes the traditional  
symbols and elements that are found in indigenous Nigeria art forms that are used for  
the purposes of ethnic identification in Modern Nigeria painting. The study established  
that there is a wide range of regional artistic forms that are indigenous to Nigerian  
culture. In traditional paintings in Nigeria, all these regional forms are reflected in our  
works which the materials are locally sourced.  
PII: S238315531900002-8  
Received: 05 Apr. 2019  
Accepted: 20 Jun. 2019  
Published: 05 Jun. 2019  
Corresponding author’s email:  
KEYWORDS: Indigenous, Forms, Materials, Painting, Nigeria  
culture of the Nigerian people. It has different names  
to different Nigerian groups. It is known in Hausa,  
Nigeria is known all over for her artistic heritage.  
Peoples culture is expressed through various art  
forms. Some of Nigeria indigenous arts and craft are:  
weaving, pottery, calabash decoration, dyeing,  
leather work, carving, basketry, wall and body  
painting. Painting during the pre-colonial period  
was a very unique tradition and cultural practice  
among the various Nigerian ethnic groups. However,  
indigenous forms are those features that are  
originating or occurring within Nigeria geographical  
space. Nigeria has an artistic tradition that dates  
back thousands of years; while much of the countrys  
early art had a religious or spiritual significance,  
many of the traditional arts and crafts evolved over  
time to include practical and decorative items while  
many of the local arts and crafts are regional.  
Indigenous artists have adapted new techniques and  
materials in parallel with earlier traditional  
materials and techniques. Indigenous art continues  
to be a living and growing concern through which  
indigenous peoples express their beliefs, celebrate  
their tradition and look to the future [1].  
Fulani and Yoruba as the laili and Igbo as uli. The  
materials are usually plant/flower or bark extract of  
trees which is mixed with some other ingredients  
like lemon and cloves used to beautify the skin and  
fingers in artistically wrought patterns, this form of  
painting is ephemeral in nature and it is done on  
women during marriage ceremony. In addition,  
Campbell [3] observes that shrine painting is also an  
observable feature of painting practice in Yoruba  
religious activities. Shrine paintings generally unlike  
the plastic arts of the Yoruba are treated as one of a  
lesser art. The neglect of painting in the traditional  
studies could be attributed to gender-centric  
considerations as it is practiced almost exclusively by  
women in ephemeral and less permanent nature [3,  
4]. The assertion is buttressed by Udechukwu [5]  
that there are several art forms which because of  
their transient and perishable nature have received  
less study. The surface used for this kind of painting  
is the wall, which gives an elaborate expression on  
the symbols and meaning of religious images as  
exemplified in the culture beliefs of the tradition of  
the people. Also, artists are now using commercially  
manufactured paints, rather than paints made from  
local, natural materials. However, they continue to  
paint the innermost areas of shrines with indigenous  
paint materials, paralleling the use of plain  
handwoven cloths (known as jepe) underneath  
Among the major culture in Nigeria, Yoruba,  
Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri and Igbo culture, body  
painting is the most conspicuous forms of  
indigenous painting that is noticeable and found  
among women during ceremonial occasions like  
wedding and religious festivities [2]. Body painting  
is a style of painting that is as old as tradition of the  
Citation: Abodunrin JA (2019). Indigenous forms  
and materials in Nigerian painting. J Art Arch  
Stud, 8 (1): 07-12.  
Journal of Art and Architecture Studies  
ISSN 2383-1553  
DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.51148/jaas.2019.2  
J. Art Arch. Stud. 8(1): 07-12, June 05, 2019  
Abodunrin, 2019  
successive layers of richly embellished machine- and adaptation of cultural elements, of theme, motif,  
woven cloth panels of Oyo Yoruba masquerades. patterns and folklores in the various regional  
Nigeria is country that parades various paintings. Most of the scholarly works on this  
architectural building with different forms and subject are directly on ethnic traditions,  
embellishment that are peculiar to our indigenous contemporary Nigerian art and the issue of regional  
forms [6]. For example, architecture in the northern identification of traditional motifs and values, but  
part of Nigeria is decorated with various symbols not on the overview of indigenous forms of painting  
such as the northern knot. The Northern knot is in Nigeria as a whole.  
another symbolic form found in the Northern part of  
For example, Okeke [7] traces Uli forms as lgbo  
Nigeria architecture which suggests an emotive penchant to beautify the body and most importantly  
symbol of Northern Nigerian power and political as a tribute paid to a deity within the context of  
identity that was adopted by the region (Figure 1). annual festivals of rededication and thanksgiving  
The symbol was adopted in the 1950s when Nigerian centered on the said deity. Okediji [8] described the  
elites were preparing for political independence iconography forms of Yoruba shrine painting as  
from Britain. This symbol represents the unity in anthromorphic and Zoomorphic which are merely  
diversity which encapsulated in the One North decorative, but are communicative symbols of the  
philosophy that was used to fight for representation peoples culture. Ottenberg [9] in his own case,  
and privileges of Northern Nigeria. This symbol has attributed lgbo art forms into human sociability  
become unique in arts and crafts objects as an entity which commonly appeared on the faces, arms, legs  
for geographical identification of the region. Also, and body of females, from girls to senior women and  
some of the wall paintings and etchings are Quranic occasionally on the males, as well as the presence of  
verses with an artistic, calligraphic slant. The verses Uli murals on houses and compound walls of lgbo  
capture the imagination and to elicit aesthetic living areas. Abokede [10] focuses on shrine painting  
appreciation, but this is not an end in itself. This in the upper Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State. His work  
symbolic design has been incorporated into various concentrated on function, history and form of  
artistic formations in the northern part of Nigeria painting found in egungun shrine in upper Oke-  
ranging from architecture, textile, crafts and modern Ogun area with no attention to the focus of this  
paper. Akinwumi [11] observed the state of Nigerian  
traditional linear art with particular reference from  
those found on Fulani body art and gourd art, cloth  
decoration of the Jukun, body and wall painting in  
the Edo town of Lueleha, Ibibio body painting and  
scarification, Igbo, Uli and ichi marks; nsibidi script  
of Cross River culture area and Yoruba shrine wall  
paintings. Campbell [4] covers several aspects of  
shrine paintings, which include the art historical  
documentation of the work, the classification and  
meaning of colour in Yoruba cosmology, the  
materials used in the production of shrine paintings.  
Smith [12] attempted to provide a comprehensive  
overview of Uli body and mural painting, and how it  
represents the synthesis of Igbo culture. In addition,  
the study explores the metamorphosis of Uli art,  
specifically how it has evolved the skilful of  
contemporary Igbo artists, both male and female.  
However, as rich as these scholarly works are, none  
has focused directly on the indigenous forms in  
Nigeria as products of image representation in  
modern painting, the gap which this study filled.  
Figure 1. One North (source: author)  
Among other things, this paper focuses on the  
highlight of the indigenous forms in Nigeria painting  
with a view of bringing into bear what constitutes  
pattern of forms from different geographical sphere  
of Nigeria. This paper observes the traditional  
symbols and elements that are found in indigenous  
Nigeria art forms that are used for the purposes of  
ethnic identification in Modern Nigeria painting.  
Also, the paper established the content of inculcating  
Indigenous Symbols in Nigeria Painting  
J. Art Arch. Stud. 8(1): 07-12, 2019  
Generally, the forms of Nigeria indigenous  
Artistic style is therefore the product of  
painting are part of our history and have served constant, recurring or coherent visual or conceptual  
specific purposes in the era of its creation. Such traits. In painting, for example, a style might include  
purposes may have been for either traditional or characteristic of materials, brush strokes, colour  
religious activities which defines the culture of such combinations, subject matter, and technique of  
a tribe within Nigeria geography. For instance, the representation among several other reasons. Style  
Igbos made bronze ceremonial vessels a part of their may be associated with an entire culture within a  
cultural heritage while the Yorubas have been known particular time and place with a particular group of  
for their poetic and artistic history. They specialized artists, with an individual artist and with a particular  
in making sculptures which often represented a deity institution or school over a period of time [14]. Some  
of some sort. The Hausa-Fulani art is somewhat artists develop a style and stick to it; while others  
associated with their daily way of living; such have several styles, either simultaneously or  
routines as farming and animal rearing. It is sequentially. The style used by indigenous artists is  
however mostly influenced by their religious beliefs between abstraction and naturalistic painting. The  
and spirituality. In traditional paintings in Nigeria, subjects are often decreasing of the size of objects  
all these regional forms are reflected in our works proportionally with distance, muting of colour and  
which the materials are locally sourced. The decrease of the precision details. It often  
materials ranging from raw materials from plants characterized by a childlike simplicity in its subject  
and earth colours are used to depict various cultural matter and techniques. They explored the world of  
themes of painting.  
Yoruba folklore expressions on dreams, nightmares  
Indigenous forms are characterized with and weird pictorial elements which are difficult to  
traditional subject, styles and techniques usable understand because of their surrealistic tendencies.  
within Nigeria space. Nigeria is the populous African They made use of bright colours, stylized and  
nation with several ethic groups which all vary in disjointed figures, as well as unconventional  
their socio-cultural affinities. Nigeria art forms from materials. The forms are original, spontaneous and  
the time immemorial also different in the use of naively created with utter disregard for the depth,  
subject, style and material techniques. Indigenous space or any expected relationship of motif themes  
artists in this context are the traditional artists are most times derived from folktales, myths and  
whose their practices have taken into concentration religious stories. Among the traditional artists  
their locality without western interference.  
among the Yoruba, who have made significant  
Traditional subject matter in artistic presentation impacts are Twins Seven Seven, Muriana Oyelami,  
described the focus and the intention of an artist. Adebisi Fabunmi, Nike Okundaye, Jimoh Buraimoh.  
The physical content that is visually represented in a  
Uli is the name given to the traditional designs  
painting is the subject. The subject in painting could drawn by the Igbo people of Nigeria. It is an art  
be in form of landscape, still-life, portraits, mural tradition in which simplified linear rendering of  
decoration, figural and non-figural composition. The form is balanced by an immense understanding of  
subjects of representation in traditional or the qualities of both positive and negative space [15].  
indigenous painting are human figures which Uli is an Igbo female body and wall painting  
embodied the vivid image of the Nigerian way of life tradition from southeastern Nigeria that is based on  
combined with the magnificent history of the past. sinuous abstract forms derived from nature (Figure  
One of the major aspects of the subject lies in the 2). The Uli rich art tradition has become the  
fact that they draw their inspiration from the signature tune for identifying the Nsukka School of  
traditional folk heritage of the region. It also art. The calligraphic nature of Uli art (body painting/  
includes pictorial symbols such as mysterious decoration) influenced the products work (Figure 3).  
animals, deities, gods, goddesses, ancestral deities The philosophy of application of Uli art form as  
and spirits. The indigenous painters drew objects, espoused by Uche Okeke and later supported by  
rendering their units rich and multicoloured Chuka Amefuna, Chike Aniakor and El-Anasui was  
dominated basically with primary colour in their to intensify the search for Igbo-identity, thereby  
composition. The paintings produced during this using the Uli linear forms to depict radical socio-  
period were derived from traditional Yoruba political and cultural subject matters.  
mythology, deities, as well as, individual fantasies  
In the traditional culture of the Igbo, Uli art  
according to Wills [16] was an art of the women folk.  
The motifs and symbols or patterns employed in Uli  
Abodunrin, 2019  
body and wall decoration were derived from ornament, embellishment, design composition,  
different aspects of the people environment and form, plan and motif. Okediji [17] explains the use of  
world view. Some Uli were abstract with zigzag Ona for embellishment of traditional sculpture in  
patterns and concentric circles, while others stood wood. Such examples are found on decorations on  
for house hold objects such as bowls, stools, pots, Opon Ifa (Ifa Divination tray) Osa Sango (Sango  
farm tools etc. Many represented animals and birds Axe) Opo (House posts) doors and window carvings.  
such as python, lizard, leopard, alligator, lion, Ona is also noticeable in traditional Yoruba pottery.  
monkey, eagle, owl, and kite, etc. or celestial bodies, The Yoruba, generally, like adornment for their  
the crescent moon and star [9]. It is pertinent to body. The sources by which traditional Yoruba  
note that traditional Uli was employed in many artists derived the Ona motifs or pattern are from  
social functions, such as title taking, marriages, nature, animals, birds, man-made objects, insects,  
memorial services for the dead, harvest rites and plants and dreams (Figure 4). The ONA group of  
ritual performances. This perharps is the reason why artists which crystallise in Lle-Ife in 1989 are united  
Ottenberg [9] says that Uli designs which commonly by their aim to incorporate traditional Yoruba  
appeared on the faces, arms, legs and body of decorative motifs in an art of social comment.  
females, from girls to senior women and occasionally Members of the ONA group have conducted research  
on the males, as well as the presence of Uli murals into digenous painting and experimented with  
on houses and compound walls of Igbo living areas materials ranging from clay and calabashes to plastic  
suggest human sociability.  
chippings and plastic sheets. The ONA artists are  
predominantly Yoruba and include Don Akatakpo,  
Bolaji Campbell, Kindle Filani, Tunde Nasiu, Moo  
Ogundipe, Tayo Ojomo, Mayo Okedij, Idowu Otun  
and Tola Wewe [18].  
Figure 4. Yoruba traditional symbols (Source:  
Figure 3. Uli symbol (Source: ezibota.com)  
Most of these symbolic forms or icons are  
On the other hand, Ona has also played a reflected and adapted into indigenous painting in  
great role in the works of some of the Yoruba artists  
(Figure 4). Ona is a Yoruba word that has a wide  
application. Ona refers to decoration, pattern,  
Nigeria. However, the study is descriptive  
examination of the indigenous forms and materials  
in Nigeria painting by Nigerian artists and it  
J. Art Arch. Stud. 8(1): 07-12, 2019  
unravels what constitutes indigenous forms in through the use of indigenous elements and forms  
Nigeria and how it has been used to achieve [21]. Artists from traditional periods until the  
indigenous painting that translates into modern present time have engaged themselves with beautiful  
styles and techniques.  
landscapes and seascapes spiced with rich  
vegetation, alluring and exotic flowers, and cattle  
Artists and indigenous painting in Nigeria  
Artists like their counterparts in different parts of rearer, Fulani maids with their milk calabashes  
Africa have drawn some of their inspirations from decorated and often balanced on their heads, market  
indigenous forms and in so doing have contributed scenes and so on. Others are in the area of  
to the creation of an amalgamated national identity, architecture (palaces of traditional rulers: Obas,  
but also continue to give art tradition a life line. The Obis, Emirs, and Chiefs), festivals (like the Durbar,  
creative and visual talents noticed among many Eyo, Egungun and Arugungu) mother and child,  
Nigerian artists no doubt is an indication that they fishermen as well as other interesting events within  
have responded to the dynamics of change and Nigeria cultural society [22]. In the early 60s in the  
continuity. However, indigenous artists are those North, some radical students changed their art styles  
that have identified themselves in terms of themes, fromcthst ancient traditions and even ignored the  
materials, subject matter and techniques that are realistic approach being taught by expatriates to  
imbued in our tradition and culture. Most of them what could be termed the 'New African' concept.  
did not attend any form of formal education; they This concept was an admixture of traditions and  
learn the trade through apprenticeship. These modernism.  
categories of artists do not believe in Western  
ideology in the use of forms for artistic practice.  
During this period till today, Aristotle created  
new sensations in their bid to speak in authentic  
Indigenous paintings are those that drew African Odom's in the modern era. Many of these  
reference from Nigeria indigenous traditions as progenitors carried their ideologies to other formal  
those found on Fulani body art and gourd art, cloth schools or workshops to greater vibrant artistic  
decoration of the Jukun, body and wall painting, revolutions. Other artists of the 70s such as Shina  
Ibibio body painting and scarification, Igbo, Uli and Yusef. Joshua Akande, Dele Jegede, David Dale,  
ichi marks; nsibidi script of Cross River culture area Nelson-Cole, Kolade Oshinowo and Gani Odutokun  
and Yoruba shrine wall paintings. There are different also followed the efforts of the latter, who  
Schools and ideologies that have developed different essentially, being followed by the majority of the  
experiments and innovations towards Nigerian recent 'Zaria School' graduates are characterized by  
identity. Members of Osogbo School, founded by Ulli elongated of forms,  
with elegant Northern  
Beier in the earl 1960, have also explored Yoruba architecture and human figures. Their themes are  
spirituality in several media. Leading Osogbo artists usually humane and rendered in discernible images  
include the painter and musician Taiwo Olaniyi, [23]. However the ULI, ONA and the NORTHERN  
popularly known as Twins Seven Seven, painter and SYMBOLS are charged with significant styles that if  
writer Amos Tutuola; and sculptors such as Asiru continued, could lead to an authentic, modern  
Olatunde, Adebisi Akanji, Susanne Wenger [19].  
artistic culture from Nigeria. The adaptations of the  
Like other aspects of visual arts, themes and indigenous forms in Nigeria could generate  
concepts which oftentimes associated with the origin remarkable recognition worldwide. The forms are  
and cultural heritage of respective artists have also ingeniously employed to serve modern and universal  
developed gradually and significantly in modern artistic development.  
Nigerian painting. They have become varied, rich  
and interesting. For instance, Ben Enwonwu painted CONCLUSION  
dancers from various ethnic groups in Nigeria based  
on their mystic theme. In his paintings, he depicted It was established that there is a wide range of  
Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani and Igbo themes, which were regional artistic forms that are indigenous to  
mostly geared towards a call for unity and peace in Nigerian culture. In traditional paintings in Nigeria,  
Nigeria [20]. Also, Uche Okeke and his all these regional forms are reflected in our works  
contemporaries took painting to new horizons and which the materials are locally sourced. The  
experimented with new visual imageries that were materials ranging from raw materials from plants  
derived from traditional African aesthetics from and earth colours are used to depict various cultural  
which they created paintings that adequately themes. The preponderance of traditional materials  
represented Nigeria, and of course, Africa at large gave rise to stylization and modification of forms to  
Abodunrin, 2019  
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naturalistic characteristic. The indigenous painting  
looks flattened, exaggerated and elongated in a  
mannerist tendency. The designs are also cubistic  
and when his subjects are viewed critically, such  
naturalistic elements are evident. The pattern/motifs  
are now applied on textiles and used in all sort of  
visual art such as painting. There are group of artists  
known as the Ona and Nsukka groups and few  
artists from the North which are known for reviving  
the art of indigenous forms in modern times and  
using art mediums of today like gouche, watercolour,  
acrylic and so on.  
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Competing interests  
The author declares that they have no competing  
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