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    Chery-Ann Jason


      Africans are generally famous for their art and their inherent interest in beautification. This has led to creativity of different sorts and a very strong background in the work of art.


      Uli which is also known as Uri is a traditional design drawn by the Igbo people of Southeastern Nigeria. They are generally abstract, consisting of linear forms and geometric shapes but they are symbolic. They are usually drawn on the body like tattoos or painted onto the sides of buildings as murals and are often painted spontaneously.


      They are not synonymous with the paintings on the walls of shrines that are painted in conjunction with some community rituals in the sense that Uli is not sacred. It is also not directly symbolic, it focuses on the creation of a visual impact and decorating the body of the patron or building in question.


      The name was derived from the Igbo names of the plants that are processed to produce the dye for the designs. According to local mythology, the goddess of earth, Ala blessed women with the ability to create which is demonstrated through the creation of Uli. The designs were gotten from natural forms like animal patterns, including leopard spots or python markings, also other abstract forms like the female body or knotted designs. The designs have been found on Igbo-ukwu bronzes, this indicates that the practice has been in usage since the 9th century.


      The responsibility of creating these designs rests exclusively on women. The decoration is done with dark dyes and is usually in preparation for events like marriages, title taking, funerals, or everyday wear; they usually last for approximately eight days.


      They use four primary pigments to create murals on the walls of compounds and buildings. The four primary pigments are; black, white, yellow, and red and they usually last until rainy seasons.


      It had lost its popularity by 1970 but it has continued to be practiced in recent times by some artists within Nigeria. They have also started to produce some of these traditional designs on canvas.

      In the Igbo culture, this art is not described as a painting but rather described as writing. The performance of this art is called ide uli. They are not permanent but spontaneous in nature. Often times they are created to commemorate a ritual or are placed on shrines but this does not make them sacred.


      When Uli is used as body art, it is meant to complement certain aspects of the body, often the legs or the neck. The murals on walls are more likely to include depictions of human and animal forms. Also, a distinctive series of stippled white dots which are known as ntupo in the Igbo language are used to separate different designs or sections of the wall.


      Uli artists generally focus on creating a variety of contrast, clarity of lines, and a balanced distribution of forms that work within the space being used. The drawings focus both on the designs directly applied with pigment and the shape of the negative space created between. Distinct styles have developed in different areas around Southern Nigeria. For example, in Nri-Awka, designs tend to focus on slender tapering lines with small and sparing usage of motifs, while in Arochukwu designs are heavier and more densely packed with heavy use of motifs and nested designs. Within these regional variations individual uli artists have unique and recognizable styles, and, even in the collective drawing of designs, relative rank, and talent are acknowledged.




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