Mbari: Art as Process in Igboland

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

Side of Lagwo mbari. Igbo peoples, Nigeria. Photo by Herbert M. Cole.

From the left the figures are: a court messenger (recalled from the colonial era), a hippo or elephant (though it looks like neither), a woman displaying herself to passersby, a policeman, with an orphan partially visible. 

Mbari programs celebrate life as it is, was, or might be, showing things from memory, folklore (man is goat), from other, rival communities, such as places where women display themselves or where "they give virgins to dogs" (for sex—an image sometimes seen in mbari). The implication here is that the people who built this mbari would never be as dumb or lewd as those others. Real and imagined animals and spirits are seen, and sometimes unique images which artists include "to beat other artists," as large mbari always compete with those that have opened in nearby communities within the past several years. The Igbo are highly competitive people.