The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Mbari: Art as Process in Igboland

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

Detail of front side of mbari to Ala by the artist, Ezem, in Inyeogugu, Nigeria, 1960. Photo by Herbert M. Cole.

This mbari has begun its inevitable deterioration, its return to the Earth, which called it into being. As a sacrifice, it may never be repaired. Ala sits with a boy and girl child to her sides, although all mbari figures (and animals) are said to be "her children." The animal between her and the seated gentleman has lost its head; the childrens' limbs show the modeling armatures. 

Ala's torso and neck are painted in close, parallel patterns, and she wears a fancy hairdress style (that includes mirrors); both are marks of stature and prestige for this "queen among women," and formerly affected by women of high status for festivals. Her feet are raised on an iron bar.