TRIBAL AFRICAN ART

IFE

In Yoruba mythology the city of Ile-Ife is “the navel of the world,” the place where creation took place and the tradition of kingship began. There it was that the gods Oduduwa and Obatala descended from the heaven to create earth and its inhabitants. Oduduwa himself became the first ruler, oni, of Ile-Ife. To this day Yoruba kings trace ancestry to Oduduwa. Of all the centers of African art, there is none so remarkable for extraordinary accomplishments in many fields of art as the ancient town of Ife, the ritual center of the great Yoruba tribe of western Nigeria. Ife gave its name to this art. Ife art includes terra-cotta and bronze heads and busts, stone sculpture, stools and religious pieces carved in quartz, monumental granite monoliths, statues of humans and animals. Both the terra-cotta and bronze pieces belong to a series that has been interpreted by some specialists as idealized portraits, and occasionally a bust or a head has been identified as that of an oni or a dignitary. They date from 12th to the 15th. Ife style is reminiscent of that of Benin, which flourished in the 16th century. The bronze heads were cast by the melted wax method; their dimensions are near life-size and on some the whole facial area is covered with close parallel lines which, it is thought, may represent body marks of a particular kind. Surrounding the mouth and along the lower jaw, and also on top of the head, there are irregularly placed holes. It is assumed that these were for the purpose of adorning the head with some necklace-like ornament, marking the hair, beard and mustaches. Despite the disappearance of the people responsible for the ancient Ife art, people living on its territory continued to produce artwork inspired by the original masterpieces discovered during archeological excavations. 

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