Thoughts. Ramblings. Heavy-hipped. Mango-obsessed.

A tradition lost...

my uli painting
I'm Igbo (Nigerian). I was doing some research on an old traditional art form practised by Igbo women called Uli which is (from what I understand) a symbol-based form of body painting & wall painting - symbols can range from nature & everyday village objects to dots & triangles. The idea is to 'go with the flow' and go where your chi (god) takes you - there are no mistakes, everything is as it should be - and so the artist cannot 'correct' her work (nor should she want to, for that matter).


In Igbo mythology, Uli is believed to have been passed down by the Igbo Goddess of Fertility & Creativity to her Chief Painter who then passed it on to women-folk. There are two (or maybe 3) things that upset me:

1) the form has since been adopted (& dominated) by men

2) however, it is a dying art form as it's not practised as widely as it used to

3) however, in its adoption, the traditional form has been adapted into a more contemporary expression (which is cool, but I think the practice should also be expressed/honoured in as close to its original form as possible).

4) there is an organisation (German-based) who specialise in saving old art traditions from extinction who have taken on the revival of Uli; however, they've split the artform into two calling the wall-painting 'Upa' & body-painting 'Uli'. I find this upsetting because although I appreciate their much-needed role in saving this artform, it feels like they've patented it by renaming a part of it.


In exploring my cultural heritage, I've unearthed a beautiful, spiritual art form, but with it comes a history of demise & exploitation that I had no control over - I felt proud to have descended from and to be part of a people with such an artistic legacy - some things about myself had been answered, but I also felt helpless, frustrated and angry that Uli art had been allowed to wither away.

And so I responded/coped by painting into the early hours of the morning.
I am not a painter. I didn't have the tools or the colours for Uli, but I painted with the same spirit.

The picture you see above is what I came up with.

1 comment:

Kobi said...

I don't think the tradition is completely lost, I believe there are still some small time artists who practice this art form back at home. It's only because the Nigerian government does not publicise these things (especially as it's Igbo) which leads us to believe that their dead.