Southward Mande migration and the Muslim revolution in the Futa Jallon push populations from the southwestern Sudan into the upper Guinea coast (modern Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the coast of present-day Guinea). These migrations lead to the diffusion of systems of belief and aesthetic motifs. Prospering from the trans-Saharan gold trade, the Akan kingdoms (in modern Ghana) compete for regional dominance. The kingdom of Asante, under ruler Osei Tutu, prevails and promotes the growth and dissemination of courtly arts. In what is now western Nigeria, the Yoruba state of Oyo employs its formidable cavalry to gain economic hegemony over its neighbors, including the nascent kingdom of Dahomey to the west. Finally, the kingdom of Benin suffers a nearly century-long period of political turmoil and economic depression, but reemerges in the eighteenth century as an important trading power and center of artistic production.
In the seventeenth century, the region of West Africa known as the Gold Coast (modern Ghana) was dotted with several small-scale principalities populated by peoples belonging to the Akan cultural group. Linked by trade routes, a shared language, and similar belief systems, these states nonetheless remained separate entities until the early eighteenth century, when Asante, an inland kingdom ruled by a chief named Osei Tutu, embarked on a process of territorial expansion that united them as one kingdom. By 1750, Asante had become a large empire whose borders were roughly congruent with those of Ghana today. Developing an inclusive model of leadership that emphasized points of similarity and adopted traditions from throughout the territory for courtly use, Osei Tutu promoted unity among the peoples over whom he ruled and cultivated a strong national identity that has remained to the present day.
The kingdom’s active role in the gold, cloth, and slave trades brought vast wealth that fostered especially rich artistic traditions. The king himself was perceived as a creative force whose dynamic patronage of the arts, along with his health and appearance, were considered an important metaphor for his kingdom’s strength and stability. The art of Asante, like that of all Akan peoples, wove together the verbal and the visual by illustrating spoken proverbs that communicated accepted truths and practical advice. In courtly art, verbal motifs relating to the cohesion and prosperity of the kingdom were used extensively.
· 17th century First-hand accounts by Dutch travelers to the court of Benin provide information about its urban architecture and royal sculpture at this time. The palace is composed of rectilinear wood buildings crowned with thatched roofs decorated with cast-brass pythons and birds. Inside, wooden pillars and beams are covered with cast-brass plaques depicting court ceremonies and battles.
· 17th century The extended southward movement of Mande peoples into the Guinea coast region forces local peoples further southwest toward the Atlantic. Some Mande populations in the interior of modern Sierra Leone are integrated into the Kissi, Bullom, Loko, and Temne cultures to form the Mende cultural group. These Mende peoples migrate to the coast in the nineteenth century.
· 17th–18th century Independent Portuguese merchants, called lançados, and their British equivalents settle along the shores and rivers of the Guinea coast as middlemen between European and African trading powers. They are absorbed into local African society and give rise to a new Euro-African mercantile class. In addition to facilitating exchange, this population introduces new architectural forms and spreads elements of Christianity.
· 17th–early 19th century Based in the city of Oyo-Ile, the Yoruba state of Oyo expands its territory through effective use of cavalry and archers. One of the largest states in coastal West Africa, the Oyo empire covers an estimated 18,000 square miles at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Shrines dedicated to Shango, the Yoruba deity of thunder and an early king of Oyo, house wooden sculptures such as figures, dance wands, and bowls that are central to royal court ceremony. Architectural sculpture such as ornately carved wooden doors and veranda posts, as well as equestrian warriors representing Ogun, the Yoruba deity of war and ironsmithing, are important aspects of Oyo art. Oyo Yoruba colonization along the empire’s frontiers and the practice of holding political hostages from client states, such as Dahomey, at court introduces elements of Yoruba culture and statecraft to other peoples.
· ca. 1630 Benin’s Oba Ohuan dies and leaves no successor.
Dynastic struggles and civil war cause a general decline in Benin’s prosperity and regional prominence through the end of the century. Traditions of court art and apparel must be adapted to the reduced availability of luxury materials such as brass and coral.
· 1630–1690 Continued involvement with the trans-Saharan gold trade results in the steady growth and consolidation of several Akan states in present-day Ghana. By 1690, Denkyira emerges as the dominant state of the southwestern region of modern Ghana and western Côte d’Ivoire.
· 1701 The Golden Stool appears before Osei Tutu, legitimating his right to rule the Asante kingdom. At this time, all gold regalia is reportedly melted down and recast in new forms for use by loyal chiefs and officials.
· early 18th–late 19th century Asante grows into an empire whose borders in 1750 are essentially those of the modern nation of Ghana. During the era of expansion, the inclusive Asante court adopts art forms and rituals of kingship from throughout its territories as a sign of domination and state unity. Gold, considered an earthly equivalent of the sun and a signifier of spiritual force (kra), is fundamental to court ceremonies and attire.
· 1715–1750 After nearly a century of civil war, dynastic order is restored in Benin by two dynamic leaders, Obas Akenzua I (r. 1715–35) and Eresonyen (r. 1735–50). Cast-brass sculptures, including a royal staff and ikegobo, or altar to the hand, incorporate imagery that reflects Akenzua I’s victory over rivals. Resumed trade with Europeans, particularly in ivory, brings wealth back to Benin and new art forms and ceremonies are introduced that augment the prestige of the court. Cowry shells are imported in such great quantities that they are used to cover the interior walls of important buildings. Ivory becomes an increasingly important medium of royal art and court artisans create intricately carved armlets, tusks, staffs, and vessels. Under Eresonyen, a form of cast-brass mask called odudua is used in ceremonies honoring the line of Benin rulers founded by Oranmiyan, a prince from the Yoruba city of Ife. Odudua is the name of the Yoruba earth deity who founded Ife and sent Oranmiyan to Benin.
· 1720–1730 The Fulbe Islamic revolution in the Futa Jallon of central Guinea drives several ethnic groups, most notably the Baga, to the coast of the present-day nation of Guinea. Historically associated with the Mande culture group of the central Sudan, the Baga bring with them elements of Mande aesthetics that find expression in wooden sculptural forms.
· 18th century The Fon kingdom of Dahomey develops (in modern-day Republic of Benin) along the western border of the Yoruba Oyo empire. Linking the inland capital of Abomey to the commercial centers of Whydah and Allada, Dahomey develops its economy through agriculture and slave trading and expands its population by welcoming immigrants from neighboring regions. The kingdom remains a client state of the Oyo empire throughout the eighteenth century and only develops into a major regional power after Oyo’s decline in the early nineteenth century.
Northwestern Nigeria experiences a mixing of cultural traditions as various ethnic groups enter the region following the disintegration of Hausa and Yoruba states and the organization of the Sokoto caliphate in that region. To the southwest, Abeokuta becomes a celebrated center of Yoruba woodcarving as noted sculptors establish workshops there, while its neighbors to the west, the Anago and Ketu Yoruba, develop the gelede masquerade. Elsewhere on the Guinea coast, ex-slaves from Europe and the Americas return to Africa and settle at Sierra Leone, Liberia, and other points along the coastline. Their ranks are augmented by liberated slaves confiscated by the British Navy as it enforces its ban on the international slave trade. Well-educated and highly skilled, these populations comprise a successful mercantile class that constitutes an economic and cultural bridge between European and African peoples. The Asante and Dahomey states continue to expand their economic and territorial interests, but by the latter half of the century their ascendance is checked by the emerging European colonial presence.
· early 19th century The gelede masquerade tradition develops in the Ketu region of Yorubaland, in present-day western Nigeria. This large-scale festival celebrates the spiritual powers of elderly women known as aworriya wa, “our mothers,” who protect the community’s well-being. The masks consist of a human face with an elaborate, dynamic superstructure frequently composed of several human or animal figures.
· 19th century In the Anago region of present-day western Nigeria, the Anago Master produces a corpus of stylistically distinctive gelede masks that feature geometrically shaped ears, delicately incised triangles below the hairline, and finely carved coiffures and tiaras.
· 1804–39 Striking southward, Muslim Fulani warriors led by Shehu Usman dan Fodio attack the Hausa kingdoms and the northern Yoruba states of Ilorin and Oyo, incorporating them into the rapidly expanding Sokoto caliphate. Further south, beyond the reach of the caliphate’s centralized control, ethnic groups such as the Egba, Ijaye, and Ibadan Yoruba, as well as the Fon, bring a wealth of sculptural styles to the region.
· 1807 Britain officially ends its participation in the international slave trade and encourages other European and American nations to follow its example. By 1820, both the British and French navies patrol the west coast of Africa to intercept illicit slave ships.
· 1808 The British government begins its relocation of freed slaves living in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Jamaica to the colony of Sierra Leone. The colony’s population is supplanted by slaves from Central and West Africa seized from illegal slave traders bound for the Americas. Freetown, the colony’s capital, is viewed as a base from which European religious and social values can be disseminated. Fusing European and African traditions, a vibrant creole culture develops in the colony.
· 1815–50 King Osemwende of Benin (Nigeria) introduces winged extensions to royal headgear.
· 1817 Asante king Osei Bonsu (died 1824) oversees major urban projects at Kumasi, his capital (in present-day Ghana). These projects are documented by British traveler T. Edward Bowdich in the lavishly illustrated Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee (1818). Streets are widened and straightened and the palace complex is rebuilt. The palace structure, constructed from canes woven together and packed with clay, displays hand-molded geometric and figural designs that reflect religious and political concepts. Bonsu also commissions the construction of a European-style stone and mortar castle.
· 1818 The Asante defeat of the Akan ruler Adinkra results in the introduction of adinkra cloth, a cotton textile stamped with bark-dye designs, at Kumasi. The cloth is primarily associated with funerary functions and mourning.
· 1818–58 King Guezo of Dahomey (modern Republic of Benin) orchestrates his state’s economic and military independence from its Yoruba neighbors. A major source of West African slaves, Dahomey vigorously engages Western trade interests, and its principal urban centers, Abomey and Ouidah, emerge as cosmopolitan cities with international populations. In Guezo’s hands, art and architecture become important tools for fostering national identity and pursuing foreign diplomacy. He commissions and popularizes figural relief decorations for the palace walls that illustrate cultural and political events important to the history of the Fon kingdom and builds a Catholic church at the capital with lifesize statues of the saints imported from France. In the coastal community of Ouidah, memorial altars called asen are commissioned by wealthy trading families. Made of forged metal and metal sheeting, asen take the form of circular platforms mounted on poles that bear figural compositions referring to the history and identity of the deceased.
· 1821 Liberia is settled by American ex-slaves.
· 1826 British explorers Captain Hugh Clapperton and Richard Lander visit the palace at Oyo-Ile, the capital of Oyo state (modern Nigeria), and leave descriptions of the richly decorated doors, veranda posts, and shrine sculptures they see there. Several visual elements common to Yoruba sculpture, such as equestrian figures and snakes devouring animals, are mentioned.
· ca. 1830 The Benin court permits local Bini chiefs to be commemorated with sculpted wooden altar heads inspired by royal versions of cast brass.
· 1847 Liberia is named an independent republic.
· 1851 Yoruba sculptor Ojerinde (died ca. 1914) establishes a workshop at Abeokuta, in present-day Nigeria. Patronized by the obas of Abeokuta, he is best known for his egungun masks created to honor the ancestors.
· 1858–89 Glele succeeds his father as ruler of Dahomey (present-day Republic of Benin) and presides over further elaboration of courtly arts and customs. Feline nose masks wrought in silver, which allude to the ruler’s mythical leopard ancestry, are worn during royal ceremonies. Asserting his status on the world stage, Glele covers the entrance gallery of his palace with mirrors so that it resembles the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Lavish sculptures in silver depicting lions and elephants reflect insights about his reign made by court diviners. The late king Guezo is commemorated with large-scale sculptures in brass and iron in which he is depicted as Gu, the Fon deity of war. Court sculptors Sosa Adede, Akati Akpele Kendo, and Ganhu Huntondji emerge as the principle royal artists of this period.
· 1861 Britain establishes a colony on the island of Lagos.
· 1862 Yoruba sculptor Esubiyi (died ca. 1900) establishes a workshop in Abeokuta.
· 1870 The growing British presence in the Akan region (present-day Ghana) weakens local rulers. Large wood sculptures of seated mothers nursing babies, and akuaba, small wooden dolls with disk-shaped heads that promote fertility, are widely produced at this time.
· 1874 The British colonial military defeat the Asante army led by King Kofi Kakari and sack Kumasi. Many works from the Asante treasury are removed.
· late 19th century As Britain continues to assert its control over Yorubaland in present-day Nigeria, Yoruba rulers adopt more elaborate beaded royal crowns and costumes in response to the general ebb of their political authority in the region.
· 1880–1900 The abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1880 results in the return to the Guinea coast of large numbers of liberated slaves from Brazil. Skilled tradesmen, they constitute a wealthy merchant class in urban centers such as Porto Novo and Lagos. Numerous homes, churches, and mosques are built in the flamboyant Portuguese Manueline style popular in eighteenth-century colonial Brazil.
· 1884 The European powers partition Africa at the Berlin Conference.
· 1887–97 Queen Victoria’s Jubilee introduces British royal insignia such as the rampant lion to Akan courtly arts.
· 1889–94 The reign of Dahomean king Behanzin, son of Glele, ends upon the French takeover of Dahomey and he is exiled to Martinique. Called “the shark who made the ocean waters tremble,” he is represented metaphorically by a human-size shark-headed wooden sculpture carved by royal family member Sosa Adede.
· 1897 The British “Punitive Expedition” is launched upon Benin City after a British official is ambushed and killed by Bini warriors. The British sell off the Edo royal treasury to defray the costs of the attack.
· late 19th century The earliest likely use of the ijele mask by Igbo peoples in present-day southwestern Nigeria. An enormous mask approximately five meters high and weighing around 200 pounds, an ijele is composed of multiple tiers of cloth figures and brightly colored drapery supported by a cane substructure. It is danced at funerary functions to mark the deaths of important individuals.
Guinea Coast,1900 A.D.-present
By the turn of the twentieth century all of the Guinea coast, with the exception of independent Liberia, falls under European rule. In British colonies, the policy of indirect rule relies on indigenous rulers and political systems. Confronted by an astonishing wealth of ancient and contemporary art, colonizers organize governmental bureaus and museum systems as showcases devoted to the collection and preservation of traditional material culture and archaeological sites such as Ife and Igbo-Ukwu in Nigeria. Newly created universities train African students in archaeological and anthropological practices, while contemporary artists such as Ben Enwonwu learn Western creative practices at local art schools and continue their training in Europe. In the postindependence era, a sophisticated and outspoken African intelligentsia coalesces at university centers such as Nsukka, Ife, and Zaria in Nigeria, producing literature, music, and artworks for both local and international audiences.
· early 20th century There is a proliferation of Dutch and British industrially produced cloth on the West African coast. The earliest Dutch patterns replicate the appearance of batik cloth from Dutch Indonesia. British textile mills quickly copy the designs. Other patterns derive from specific historical circumstances: a popular 1904 pattern created for export to Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) depicts the sword of kingship captured from the Asantahene, or Asante king, in 1896. By the late 1920s, mills have perfected the technology for transferring photographic images to cloth, and British colonies such as Gold Coast, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone are supplied with textiles featuring portraits of royal family members.
· early 20th century Northeastern Yorubaland experiences a social and cultural renaissance after years of foreign invasions devastated the region. Local leaders throughout the area commission lavish palaces and architectural sculptures to evoke their authority. Sculptural subjects such as the kneeling mother, seated king, and northern equestrian invader are popularized.
· early 20th century Fagbite Asamu of Idahin, in the Ketu region, popularizes the use of kinetic attachments to the superstructures of gelede masks that can be manipulated during performances.
· 1903 Aina Onabolu (1882–1963) begins his career as a portrait painter in Lagos. He is considered the first modern Nigerian artist.
· 1910 German ethnographer Leo Frobenius arrives in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, and excavates several sacred groves to Yoruba orishas, or deities. He uncovers a number of naturalistic terracotta sculptures of human heads and attempts to purchase and export the famous “Olokun head,” a cast brass head said to represent Olokun, the deity of the sea. Although a British district officer stops the purchase, Frobenius returns to Europe with several terracotta works now in the Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin.
· 1912 Fire destroys the royal palace at Efon-Alaiye, in the Ekiti region of northeastern Nigeria. Master sculptor Agbonbiofe (died 1945) is commissioned to replace twenty-five veranda posts for its audience chambers and courtyards. These are completed in 1916.
· 1914 Modern Nigeria is formed with the combination of the Northern and Southern British Protectorates. The island of Lagos is established as the colony’s capital.
· 1918 Germany cedes control of Togo to France after being defeated in World War I.
· 1924 Achimota College is founded in Ghana and offers courses in the fine arts.
· 1924 A set of palace doors carved by the Yoruba sculptor Olowe of Ise (ca. 1873–1938) for the egogo (ruler) of Ikere, a small Yoruba kingdom in the Ekiti region of northeastern Nigeria, is lent for display in the Nigerian Pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, England. One panel illustrates the arrival of British Captain Ambrose at the palace in 1897. The doors are celebrated as masterpieces of West African art, and are later acquired for the British Museum collection in exchange for a British-made throne. A master of composition, Olowe emphasizes the openness and three-dimensionality of his doors, house posts, ceremonial bowls, and other sculptures, interweaving positive and negative space to imbue them with palpable dynamic energy.
· 1927 King’s College in Lagos, Nigeria, organizes a fine arts curriculum under Kenneth Murray, later head of the Nigerian Antiquities Service.
· 1937 The work of five Nigerian artists is displayed at the Zwemmer Gallery, London. Included is the young artist Ben Enwonwu (1921–1994), who had studied under Kenneth Murray and would receive a scholarship from the Shell Company of West Africa to study art in England in 1944. After attending Ruskin College in Oxford from 1944 to 1948, Enwonwu finishes his art studies at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art, London. Returning to Nigeria in 1948, he becomes the first black Nigerian to hold the post of Federal Art Advisor.
· 1938 Isaiah Anazie of Igbo-Ukwu village in southeastern Nigeria uncovers a cache of intricately cast brass objects including a set of vessels and pendants. Although British colonial authorities make several trips to the site and recover objects for study at the British Museum, it is not until 1959 that the site is excavated by British archaeologist Thurstan Shaw. Shaw’s excavation reveals the ninth-century burial site of a religious leader or titleholder. The disparate origins of the grave goods accompanying the body indicate the region’s level of involvement with far-flung trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean networks.
· 1938 A cache of eighteen lifelike cast brass heads dating from the thirteenth century are unearthed near the palace of the Oni of Ife. Resembling those uncovered by Frobenius, they are kept by the Oni and form the basis of the Ife Museum collection. Subsequent excavations at other sites provide further examples of Ife art that contribute to a more complete understanding of Ife ritual practice.
· 1940 Black Africans from French and English colonies are conscripted into the war against Nazi Germany.
· 1943 Examples of Nok terracotta statuary are discovered in the Jos region of northern Nigeria. Assistant administrative officer and trained archaeologist Bernard Fagg, who would later be appointed director of the Nigerian Antiquities Service, leads the effort to rescue and document Nok pieces, many of which are accidentally unearthed by mining operations. Fagg authors several scholarly texts on the finds and his older brother William, then curator of African ethnology at the British Museum, includes Nok pieces in the Royal Anthropological Institute’s 1949 exhibition Traditional Art of the British Colonies. The state’s collection of Nok artifacts are placed in the Nigerian National Museum in Jos upon its establishment in 1953.
· 1946 Under a new constitution, Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) becomes the first British African colony with an elected African majority in its Legislative Council.
· 1946 French citizenship is extended to all inhabitants of French colonies.
· 1947 A new Nigerian constitution permits elected African legislators to hold the majority in the national Legislative Council.
· 1947–60s Fathers Kevin Carroll and Sean O’Mahoney of the Society of African Missions establish a workshop in Ekiti district, Nigeria, to encourage local Yoruba artists to produce sculpture, textiles, and beadwork for governmental and Christian liturgical purposes. Among the most accomplished artists are Bandele, a Christian and son of famed sculptor Areogun (1880–1954), Otooro of Ketu, and Lamidi Fakeye (born 1928), a Muslim. Several Catholic churches, including Ibadan Cathedral and Saint Paul’s in Lagos, contract Bandele to carve sculpted doors depicting biblical scenes, effectively combining Yoruba and Roman Catholic architectural traditions. Lamidi Fakeye is hired to carve doors, chairs, and thrones for the House of Assembly and the House of Chiefs in Ibadan. The artists also produce veranda posts and doors for preservation projects conducted under the authority of the Nigerian Department of Antiquities and the Jos Museum.
· 1949 The Gold Coast Film School is established in Accra.
· 1952 Kwame Nkrumah becomes prime minister of Gold Coast.
· 1954 Yoruba sculptor Areogun (born 1880), a native of the Ekiti region of Nigeria, dies. Areogun was apprenticed to Bamgboshe of Osi (died ca. 1920) and was a devotee of Ogun, the Yoruba orisha of iron. One of the most famous and accomplished Yoruba sculptors, his work is distinguished by a compact, rounded, and sometimes bulbous rendering of the human form.
· 1955 Saburi O. Biobaku and Ulli Beier found Odù: A Journal of Yoruba and Related Studies at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
· 1956 Oil is discovered in southern Nigeria.
· 1956–84 Between 1956 and 1957, Islamic missionaries in northern Guinea-Conakry call for the forced conversion of Baga peoples and the destruction of thousands of ritual sculptures. Their edicts receive the support of Sekou Touré, leader of the dominant political party. Guinea achieves independence from France in 1958, and the Touré regime espouses a Marxist political ideology that, while tolerant of Islam, bans all other forms of religious worship and suppresses the production and performance of Baga sculpture.
· 1957 Gold Coast gains independence from Britain and is renamed Ghana.
· 1957 Ulli Beier founds Black Orpheus, a journal of African arts and literature, in Ibadan, Nigeria.
· 1958 The Zaria Art Society, which later becomes the Zaria Rebels, is organized at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science, and Technology in Zaria by Demas Nwoko, Bruce Onobrakpeya, S. Irein Wangboje, Yusuf Grillo, William Olaesebikan, Simon Okeke, and Uche Okeke.
· 1958 Nigerian author Chinua Achebe publishes Things Fall Apart.
· early 1960s A series of workshops is organized in Oshogbo, a town outside of Ile-Ife, Nigeria, by Ulli Beier, Georgina Beier, and Susanne Wenger, members of the faculty at the University of Ife. The instructors teach drawing and printmaking techniques and encourage their students to engage their own Yoruba folklore and belief system for inspiration. Among the most famous of the Oshogbo workshop graduates is Twins Seven Seven (born 1944), whose drawings and prints depict human, animal, and vegetal forms in compositions drawn from Yoruba mythology.
· 1960s–present A genre of tomb sculpture develops in the Cross River region of eastern Nigeria. Made entirely of concrete, the structures are typically three-walled boxes with sheltering canopies housing one or more lifesize naturalistic depictions of the departed, and are unveiled during costly “second burial” rites performed some years after death. One of the most successful and popular sculptors within the genre is Sunday Jack Akpan (born ca. 1940), whose works are distinguished by their striking realism and formal invention.
· 1960s–70s Nigerian sign painter Augustine Okoye, called “Middle Art,” is promoted by Ulli Beier and emerges as an internationally recognized artist. Perhaps because of his early experience with advertising, Middle Art’s paintings on plywood are characterized by an overtly narrative.
· 1960s–70s Austrian artist Susanne Wenger (born 1915) initiates the reconstruction of several sacred groves dedicated to Yoruba orishas located at Oshogbo, outside of Ile-Ife. With the help of Yoruba artists Buraimoh Gbadamosi (born 1936) and Adebisi Akanji (born 193-), among others, Wenger rebuilds the shrines in cement-covered clay employing a sculptural language of organic curves and abstracted forms.
· 1960 Former British colony Nigeria becomes an independent state while Côte d’Ivoire, Dahomey (Benin), and Togo achieve independence from France.
· 1960 E. C. Arinze and the Music Band record Freedom Highlife to commemorate Nigerian independence.
· 1961 The Mbari Writers and Artists Club is founded in Ibadan by a group of young intellectuals, including authors Wole Soyinka, John Pepper Clark, Ezekiel Mphahlele (a South African), and Cyprian Ekwensi, composer Akin Euba, artists Demas Nwoko, Uche Okeke, and Bruce Onobrakpeya, and Ulli Beier, a teacher at Ibadan University. Mphahlele is its first president. Created to inspire and encourage the continuing development of the arts, Mbari exhibits the work of many modern artists such as Malangatana Ngwenya (Mozambique), Jacob Lawrence (U.S.), Ibrahim el-Salahi (Sudan), Vincent Kofi (Ghana), Skunder Boghossian (Ethiopia), Susanne Wenger (Austria), and others.
· 1961 Sierra Leone gains independence from Britain.
· 1962 The establishment of the Mbari-Mbayo Club in Oshogbo, Nigeria, is celebrated with a performance of Duro Ladipo’s play Oba Moro (The King of Ghosts). In 1964, Ladipo publishes his trilogy on the history of the Kingdom of Oyo, which includes Oba Moro as well as Oba Koso (The King Did Not Hang) and Oba Waja (The King Is Dead), and opens two Yoruba operas at the Berlin Theater Festival.
· 1965 Nigerian musician and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti begins to experiment with Afrobeat, a fusion of Yoruba traditional music, American blues, jazz, and funk. Using his music as a vehicle to protest government oppression, he becomes one of the most popular figures in Africa. Thousands attend his funeral in 1997.
· 1965 An exquisite brass stool is found at the town of Ijebu-Ode in southern Nigeria. Its circular seat is raised on a columnar support composed of knotted snakes devouring antelopes. Sculpted in the attenuated style of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Ijebu brass-casting tradition, the stool’s form and iconography nevertheless indicate a strong relation to works created at Ife, Owo, and Benin, reflecting the intertwining artistic and political relationships among these centers.
· 1966 In Nigeria, a military coup ousts the elected civilian government. Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna (Islamic religious leader) of Sokoto, are assassinated, leading to a Nigerian crisis that culminates in a three-year civil war when the heavily Igbo region of Biafra declares independence under Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in 1967.
· late 1960s The birth of the “Nsukka Group,” a loose-knit collection of Igbo artists whose creative activities are centered at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in the southeast. Some of the artists, including Uche Okeke (born 1933), Demas Nwoko (born 1935), and Bruce Onobrakpeya (born 1932), were earlier associated with the Zaria Art Society and the University of Ibadan, but are forced to leave these regions when faced with anti-Igbo pogroms at the outbreak of civil war. Their return to the Igbo homeland inspires many of the artists to draw upon indigenous Igbo aesthetics, particularly the graphic traditions of uli and nsibidi, for inspiration. While the work of the Nsukka Group is diverse in appearance, it can be characterized by a tendency toward abstract compositions with a strong linear quality.
· 1970s–present Ghanaian sculptor and carpenter Samuel Kane Kwei (born 1927) invents and popularizes a genre of brightly painted full-size wooden coffins. These works memorialize the deceased by taking the form of items associated with his or her profession and personal aspirations. Boats, vegetables, automobiles, and livestock are popular subjects.
· 1975 Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau gain independence from Portugal.
· 1976 Plans are laid for the construction of Abuja, the new federal capital of Nigeria, by a consortium of Canadian, European, American, and Japanese architectural and urban planning firms headed by Japanese modernist architect Kenzo Tange, a former associate of Le Corbusier. The capital is intended to present an illustration of the democratic processes set forth in the Nigerian constitution by placing the National Assembly, presidential palace, and Supreme Court within a circular area called the Three Arms Zone. Ground is broken in 1981, and the city remains one of the largest construction sites in the world.
· 1977 The Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) is held in Lagos, Nigeria. With over 17,000 participants from over fifty countries, it is the largest cultural event ever held on the African continent.
· 1977 The foundation of the Ode-lay Society in Freetown, Sierra Leone, a group of social clubs for young urban men. Centered on leisure activities such as drinking, smoking, and listening to popular music, the clubs organize spectacular masquerade performances that draw on the varied ethnic traditions of their members. In keeping with their creators’ contemporary urban identities, Ode-lay masquerades and ceremonies incorporate explicitly “modern” and foreign materials such as Christmas ornaments and vinyl records.
· 1982 Ghanaian-born critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker John Akomfrah (born 1957) co-founds the Black Audio Film Collective, a seminal black filmmaking workshop in London.
· 1986 Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His published works include A Dance of the Forests (1963), The Strong Breed (1963), The Interpreters (1965), The Man Died (1972), Death and the King’s Horsemen (1975), and Aké: The Years of Childhood (1981).
· 1986 Sokari Douglas Camp (born 1958), from the Lower Niger Delta region of Nigeria, is among the featured artists in From Two Worlds, a show of contemporary African art held at Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.
· 1986–90 The construction of Our Lady of Peace Basilica in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire, a Catholic church modeled upon Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The basilica, whose construction costs are estimated at $150–300 million, is presented as a “personal gift” to Pope John Paul II and the Roman Catholic Church by Ivoirian president Houphouët-Boigny.
· 1989 Nigerian photographer Rotimi Fani-Kayode dies of AIDS in London. An outspokenly gay artist, his works employ the black male nude to explore the complicated relationships arising from the interplay of race, culture, and homosexual desire.
· 1989 Magiciens de la terre, the first major museum exhibition dedicated to modern and contemporary art from Africa, opens at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
· 1989 The film Yaaba (Grandmother), by Idrissa Ouedraogo (born Burkina Faso, 1954), wins the International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Ouedraogo’s next film, Tilai (1990), receives the Special Jury Prize at Cannes and also the Grand Prize of the 12th FESPACO.
· 1991 Africa Explores: 20th Century African Art opens at the Center for African Art, New York.
· 1991 The Famished Road, by Nigerian author Ben Okri, receives the Booker Prize for Literature.
· 1992 The Eye: A Journal of Contemporary African Art is published in Zaria, Nigeria, by the Eye Society.
· 1995 Africa ’95, a festival of African art in England, includes the work of several contemporary artists in exhibitions such as Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa at Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, and Self Evident at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham.
· 1995 Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui (born 1944) wins the Kansai Telecasting Prize at the Osaka Triennale.
· 1996 The Guggenheim Museum, New York, hosts a landmark exhibition of photography from throughout the African continent entitled In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present.
· 1998 Art critic and curator Okwui Enwezor is appointed artistic director of documenta XI in Kassel, Germany.
· 1998 Nigerian artist Chris Ofili (born 1968) wins the Turner Prize, England’s highest art award.
· 1999 Olusegun Obasanjo is elected president in Nigerian general elections, returning the country to civilian rule after sixteen years of military dictatorship.
· 2002 Internationally recognized filmmaker Florentino “Flora” Gomes (born Guinea-Bissau, 1949) directs Nha Fala (My Voice). This romantic musical set in the Cape Verde Islands weaves political criticism with performative spectacle.