Monday, January 4, 2010

Art Schools and Movements in Nigeria

Over the ages art schools and movements have evolved on the Nigerian art scene. As a result of the strong traditions of some of the foremost departments of Art in some of the leading Higher Institutions of Learning, academic training in art has blossomed to the extent that the culture of movements and schools has yielded themselves from these Colleges or art Departments as it were. Also, there are traditional institutions and trends that have stood the test of time and therefore have qualified to be acclaimed as schools or movements of their own.

Zaria School

The Zaria art school can claim to be the first degree-granting institution in Nigeria, having graduated its first fine arts students in 1963. Prior to that, it was a diploma-granting institution, then known as the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology; its first set of diploma students finished in 1959, including in its number S. Irein Wangboje.

Painting by Gani Odutokun represents the Zaria School

The most illustrious of early diploma sets was the one of 1961, including Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko, Uche Okeke, and Jimoh Akolo. Today Ahmadu Bello University's art faculty is large with over fifty-five staff members and is divided into two departments: Fine Arts and Industrial Design. Some of the other notable Artists that have come out of this great training ground among so many include: S. A. Adetoro, Lucas T. Bentu, Rufus Fatuyi, Dele Jegede, Kolade Oshinowo, Yusuf Grillo, etc.

Benin School

Benin City has a long history of highly developed arts. With the establishment of the Faculty of Creative Arts, the University of Benin continues a tradition of training in the plastic arts, painting, graphics, etc. Among some of the notable figures that have been associated with the training of the vibrant products that have emanated from this school is Professor Solomon Irein Wangboje, C. Nelson Cole, etc. Among some of these exciting products however, include prolific and colourful painters like Okwoju Drag, etc.

Nsukka School

The Nsukka School of art has become closely associated with uli art, the traditional wall and body painting of the Igbo. It is very important to emphasise the impact of the influence of uli art on modern art. Uche Okeke is the key link in this contagious process, and he builds an art bridge between the old and new traditions. His mother is an uli artist and his own training as an artist led him to explore this visual repertoire. At Nsukka, where he taught, the experiment quickly took hold. And so many Artists coming out of Nsukka have carried on this great art tradition as adherents. Some of these are Tayo Adenaike, Oluchukwu Oguibe, Gbubemi Amas, etc.

Ife School

This is referring to the department of fine art in the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, formerly known as the University of Ife. The tradition of this school is highly influenced by the Yoruba tradition and culture as well as the abstractionist tendencies of the popular traditional movement of Oshogbo, which is not too far in distance.

Yaba School

In 1952 the first formal art school was established at Yaba Technical Institute (now Yaba College of Technology); college art departments soon followed, and they in turn merged into the universities of the 1960s. Since then it has stood out as a very fertile ground for the training of contemporary Nigerian Artists.

Nike Okundaye - a product of the Oshogbo school

Auchi School

The Auchi School is also a tag carved out for the Department of fine art in the Auchi Polytechnic. This department has grown over the years and also developed a long tradition of rich art training and practice. The School is famous for its sculpture, especially metal sculpture, which has become a very familiar culture and terrain with the products of that institution. Also, the Auchi School is known to produce painters that are truly holding their own among their peers.  They are indeed colourists in their own right. This school has produced notable names like: Sam Ovraiti, Jonathan Lessor, Zino Orara, Alex Nwokolo, etc. 


Onaism, referring to an artistic movement initiated by a group of Yoruba artists based in Ile-Ife, derives from the Yoruba concept ona, which means decoration, embellishment, design, or motif. Ona relates to sculpture, patterning of textiles and many other art forms; it can also refer to artistic vision and aesthetics. Okediji illuminates this concept in the works of Yoruba artists reproduced in The Nucleus, the catalog of the National Gallery of Modern Art in Lagos. Some artists reveal onaism in their works more clearly than others. Gani Odutokun, for example, does so in the interplay of color; Abayomi Barber, a realistic portrait painter, shows a more subtle use of decorative elements but still falls within the category of onaism, as do the other realists -- Josy Ajiboye, Aina Onabolu and Akinola Lasekan. Other Yoruba artists represented in The Nucleus fall into mainstream onaism: Ayo Ajaye, Sina Yusuf and Jimoh Buraimoh. Okediji compares the stylistic range of onaism with that of ulism, finding the latter restricted to non-realistic styles while onaism embraces both realistic and non-realistic.


The Oshogbo school is actually an experiment that was born out of an informal workshop situation, with Ulli Beier, himself a key player. It started maturing however after 1970s, when the artists were on their own. It hitherto had been one of stagnation and repetition. The burst of creativity of the formative period (1962-1970) had waned and a kind of shakedown process came alive at work, sifting the enduring talent from the not so good and the imitators. This does not mean, however, that there are not still lots of activity and many works produced at Oshogbo, but the results are not as satisfactory. Twins Seven-Seven has become one of the major exponents and involved with other activities, particularly music. Rufus Ogundele, Muraina Oyelami, and Jimoh Buraimoh continue to experiment but with mixed results. The younger generations who attach themselves to the Oshogbo experiment are less successful and are cashing in on the tourist popularity of Oshogbo art. Oshogbo art itself has been variously characterized and described as folkloric, naive, innovative, dynamic, touristic and on and on.


Igbo traditional wall paintings and body decorations, using abstracted designs known as uli, have been a source of visual inspiration for contemporary painters in eastern Nigeria. This is an artistic continuity between the older, women's art form and the newer, largely male-dominated art. While the wall painting tradition is declining, the modern uli artists are only beginning to explore the visual possibilities, these possibilities being spearheaded and harnessed by Uche Okeke.

Uli painting on the exteriors of buildings were done in reddish brown, yellow, black, and white. It was painted on women's bodies with juice from local plants.  In former times, uli designs could be seen on the bodies of women on major market days. It was their way of dressing up to go out.

Each design has a name, usually the same as the object it depicts. Motifs represent man made objects such as the hoe or metal gong, as well as animals, birds, and plants such as the python, the lizard, the kola nut, and the cassava leaf.  Even the sun and moon are depicted. Some of the designs are strictly abstract such as dots and lines. Modern motifs include the airplane and the automobile.  These motifs were arranged in such a way as to create an appealing aesthetic composition with the negative space being as important as the design space, creating lyrical works of art. 

Painting by Abayomi Barber

Until recent times, uli was largely ignored by anthropologists in favour of the more exotic masks and figures made by the Igbo men.  Today it has largely died out among the women as they dress in a more western fashion and building styles change. So uli survives in the work of contemporary Nsukka artists, most of whom are men.

Some of the artists who have become serious adherents of this movement include Tayo Adenaike, and Obiora Udechukwu, etc.

Barber School

Abayomi Barber - a Painter and Sculptor of extraordinary prowess, has for many years been training and turning out adherents from his private studios located in the Institute of Cultural Studies, University of Lagos. He is adept at creating looming images in fantastic realism in his sculpture and paintings. His painting is markedly colourful and usually in the surrealistic mould, that is, his images cast a dream-like and mysterious appearance. Some of the leading apostles of this school are - Muri Adejimi and Olumuyiwa Spencer.

Morgan Nwanguma

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations Morgan. I look forward to welcoming you to the Harmattan Workshop in Agbarha-Otor in the month of March. This place is a melting point and fusion of all the schools mentioned in your blog. For further information on the workshop.
    Go to
    Mudiare Onobrakpeay


All in Your Eyes