Sweet Ufumwen Ebeigbe – Abstract

A practical assessment of the modes of visual narratives in the art of Benin in Nigeria

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African narrative art is characterized by a complexity of style, iconography and functions, hence scholars of sub-Saharan African art often find it difficult to identify, interpret and appraise this fundamental genre of African art. This is especially true of scholars who utilize Western yardstick in their interpretations. Thus scholars pay a cursory glance at this aspect of African art or ignore it outright. Consequently, there is a dearth of literature on the nature and cultural significance of this genre of African art and little is known of it outside the continent. It is therefore no surprise that a common perception in the West is that African art is devoid of narrative art. Such an erroneous impression needs to be corrected in order to promote a better understanding and appreciation of the arts of African cultures. This is the motivation for this art-historical appraisal which employs the stylistic, functionalistic and iconographic analytical methods to elucidate the form, content, functions and meaning of African narrative art. The art of Benin (Nigeria) provides excellent exemplars of this unique African mode of expression. Thus this paper focuses on an analysis of the visual narratives that are depicted on principal Benin royal artforms, and their significance in the cultural life of their creators and users.

Keywords and Phrases:
Narrative art, Benin art, carved tusks, royal stools, African culture.