It is difficult to discuss the heritage of the Igbo of eastern Nigeria and a major creative inspiration of Afratik as a brand, without a mention of the almost extinct uli body of wall painting practiced by Igbo women. The term, uli is the Igbo name for the indigo dye obtained from several species of plants and used to draw cosmetically on the human body, It is also the name of the traditional Igbo mural.
The decline of uli in the postcolonial period is a reflection of the sorry state of cultural heritage in Igbo land and Nigeria. The situation of uli reflects the unacknowledged contribution of women to social development in Igbo land. This article focuses on the work of one uli woman painter, Eziafo Okaro, and highlights the modern qualities of the uli art in a globalizing world.
Inspired by Eziafo Okaro.
Eziafo Okaro was a woman adept in uli body and wall painting, she was an uli artist par excellence. The Muse seemed to have taken her wholesomely as she was not married and had the spirit of a great artist lurking in her rather frail-looking body.
An intense personality, she understood the principles of design, though from vernacular standpoints. the story of this great artist reviles that art is not a gift of the colonial masters to the rest of us, but a biosocial phenomenon. Most people would say Eziafo had a spiritual aura around her, although she was not cultic she was simply rooted in tradition and represented some of the remaining resistance against modernity and the imported Christian religion. she was not religious and was not ashamed to admit it, which is remarkable in a place and era suffused with religious fundamentalism.
Eziafo Okaro Uli Woman painter in Ogidi, Anambra State, 2009.
The death of Eziafo Okaro in February 2014 continues the unfolding tragedy of uli and Igbo heritage in Nigeria. As uli women painters in many Igbo villages, mostly in their seventies and eighties, are depleted by death and the onslaught of modernisation, their art faces the danger of effacement.
The pointers are quite clear; it will require more than the exertion of academic artists and museums to halt the imminent disappearance of uli art and other important heritages of the Igbo and make them more useful to society.