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    Colonial Nigerian Wood Carving of a British Officer & a Local Muslim Man

    Yoruba people, Nigeria
    circa 1920

    height: 45.3cm, width: approximately 28.5cm, depth: 12.7cm, weight: 2,673g



    UK art market

    – scroll down to see further images –

    This remarkable carved wooden sculpture which has been coloured with blue, black, white, yellow and other ochres, is by an unidentified Yoruba wood carver in the style of the celebrated carver Tomas Ona Odulate. The carving appears to be something of a witty parody on the part of the carver – a commentary on the patronising nature of colonial rule.

    It shows a tall British colonial officer with a ceremonial sword by his side, and with his other arm around a very much shorter local Muslim man. Both are dressed with status – the officer has his uniform and decorations, and the Muslim man wears chains of office and other decorations and a Muslim kufi cap. Perhaps the position of the Muslim man is an administrative one bestowed on him by the British to ‘manage’ his community.

    Around half Nigeria’s population is Muslim. Islam made significant inroads into Yoruba lands as well, and many Yoruba became Muslim, so the representation of a Yoruba Muslim is not unexpected though is unusual.

    Both figures are carved with features that are typical of Yoruba woodcarvers – both have almond-shaped eyes for example and both look ahead.

    Both have been carved standing on an oval platform. This has some age-related shrinkage cracks but otherwise the sculpture is in good condition.


    Quarcoopome, N. O., Through African Eyes: The European in African Art, 1500 to Present, Detroit Institute of Arts, 2009.

    Stevenson, M. & M. G. Stewart, The Mlungu in Africa: Art from the Colonial Period, 1840-1940, Michael Stevenson Contemporary, 2003.

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