The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Mbari: Art as Process in Igboland

by Herbert M. Cole
Professor Emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara

Cement mbari erected in a park in Owerri town. Igbo artist, Nigeria. Photo by Herbert M. Cole.


This is the first government-sponsored mbari. It was made of cement and concrete, to last, as a secular monument to a by-then-moribund tradition, as only a very few small two or four figure mbari were dedicated to local deities after the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70). The chosen artist, named Chukwueggu, had never worked on an mbari, though he lived in a community just outside the mbari building zone and was certainly familiar with several earlier mbari houses. Among the important aspects of this historicizing, reflexive work is the presence of an image of Chineke, the Igbo high god, never previously imaged to this writer's knowledge; a model anthill -- commemorating the "yam" that was not in fact used here; and a creative departure from the usual stepped buttresses, with plates. The fact that political and financial squabbles among artists and the government ministry sponsoring the mbari prevented its ever being painted, and thus completed, is also significant along with its entirely secular motivation and use—although as in earlier mbari, there are images of deities and spirits present here.