NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR MUSEUMS & MONUMENTS


FEDERAL MINISTRY OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE

HISTORY OF NIGERIAN Arts

ArtThe story of Nigeria as an entity began less than two hundred years ago. European powers began to explore Africa in the 15th century, but their activities, mainly trade, were confined to the coastal areas. As these European powers began to experience increased economic problems worsened by political rivalries late in the 19th century, they began to look outward to Africa for part of the solution. The owning of colonies brought the expectation of profit from economic activities and therefore, the extension of spheres of influence became an obsession. New markets were needed for obtaining raw materials for manufacturing, and in turn, manufactured goods needed new markets to exploit. This resulted in what came to be known as "The Scramble for Africa". In a meeting in Berlin, Germany, in 1884-5, Britain, France, Germany and Belgium arbitrarily divided the continent into their respective spheres of influence by simply drawing lines on the map to form new territories. Britain was assigned the area that became known as Nigeria, named after the River Niger. The country was first administered as two separate Protectorates; the Northern and the Southern Protectorates were unified into one country in 1914, with Sir Frederick Lugard appointed as Governor.

About four times the size of Great Britain, Nigeria is often referred to by writers as a "Giant in the Sun". It is a land of contrast and abundance. This is evident in its size and population, the number of language spoken, and its vast economic assets. Its abundance and variety is also manifested in the field of arts and culture. Fifty years ago, the well-known British art historian William Buller Fagg described Nigeria as the "cultural fulcrum" of the west coast of Africa and her art as "almost a microcosm of the continents". "It is to Nigeria", he went on, "that all the African nations must look as the principal trustee of the Negro artistic genius". Fagg made these remarks in the first publication to be devoted entirely to the art of any African country, at a time when African art could hardly be referenced as "art" in the same sense as Western European art, particularly the naturalistic styles that dominated from the Renaissance until the late 19th century. "African art", whenever a publisher condescended to call it so, covered the art of most of the continent, excluding Africa north of the Sahara desert, which was characterized as "Islamic". The publisher of Fagg's book, Nigerian Images, once said that in 1953, when the book was printed, he was taking a financial risk, which fortunately turned out well. Nigerian art had previously never been collected together as such, part of the reason being that it was difficult to define Nigeria as an entity except in political terms.

(Culled from Masterpieces of Nigerian Art by Ekpo Eyo, 2008)

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