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A Hidden Gem: Nigeria Magazine at the CMA’s Ingalls Library

Helina Gebremedhen, Leigh and Mary Carter Director’s Research Fellow
November 10, 2023
colorful magazines laid across a grey background featuring the title "Nigeria" on all of the magazines.

Love modern and contemporary African arts, heritage, and literature?

Come to the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Ingalls Library to browse through issues of Nigeria Magazine and read about the country’s thriving arts and culture scene between the 1960s and 1980s (fig. 1). These issues cover the best of contemporary and historical art, theater, poetry, and cultural debates, featuring some of the biggest names in African art and literature.

colorful magazines laid across a grey background featuring the title "Nigeria" on all of the magazines.
Two Nigeria magazines with orange on the top and bottom of the magazines with black and white images of people from nigeria and a nigerian mask.
Figure 1. Assorted covers of Nigeria Magazine

In an issue from 1974, Demas Nwoko, artist and lecturer in the University of Ibadan’s Theatre Arts Department, published the essay “Art in Traditional African Religion.” He describes how certain Nigerian artworks are used in religious practice, while others play a broader, secular role toward building social cohesion: “Art, as one of the most effective languages of culture, has been integrated into the fabric of society to play its own part with the artists creating in traditional freedom just like artists of other cultures of the world.” (p. 38) Many of the featured historical sculptures in the essay have parallels in the CMA collection and can be viewed in gallery 108 (fig. 2).

Two small Nigerian figurines attached by a chain on their heads.
A Nigerian magazine with a title that reads "Art in Traditional African Religion" with black and white nigerian totums on the left and right and text in the center.
Nigerian statue of a woman with a head dress turned to the side.
Figure 2. Top: Pair of Ritual Staffs (Edan Ogboni), possibly 1880s. Africa, West Africa, Nigeria, Yoruba-style maker. Copper alloy and iron; h. 22 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Drs. James, Gladys, Jay, Jeffrey, and Jamie Strain, 1996.403; Center: Spread from Nigeria Magazine, no. 110–12, 1974; Bottom: Mother and Child Figure, 1900s. Africa, West Africa, Nigeria, Yoruba-style maker. Wood, paint, glass beads, natural fiber, iron; h. 59.1 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Katherine C. White, 1972.342

“Art, as one of the most effective languages of culture, has been integrated into the fabric of society to play its own part with the artists creating in traditional freedom just like artists of other cultures of the world.” Demas Nwoko, “Art in Traditional African Religion,” Nigeria Magazine, no. 110–12, 1974, 38.

Additionally, two recent CMA acquisitions echo the contemporary artworks published in Nigeria Magazine’s September 1962 issue, which includes a review of pottery by Hamo Sassoon, Nigeria’s then Deputy Director of Antiquities. One of the acquisitions, a ceramic bowl made in the 1960s by modern icon Ladi Kwali, will be on display soon in a special rotation (fig. 3).

Book open with "A commentary on contemporary nigerian pottery" across the pages and black and white images of nigerian pottery. There is also small text below the images.
Untitled brown ceramic bowl with zig zag lines going around. There are some concentric circles in the middle.
Figure 3. Top: Spread from Nigeria Magazine, September 1962; Bottom: Untitled (bowl), c. 1960s. Ladi Kwali OON MBE (Nigerian, c. 1925–1984). Stoneware; 8.5 x 31 x 31 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, J. H. Wade Trust Fund, 2021.166

The same issue also features L.O. Ukeje’s article “Weaving in Akwete” — a city in southeast Nigeria near the industrial hub of Port Harcourt — with numerous photographs of weavers at work (fig. 4). Interestingly, an exemplar of Akwete weaving in the CMA’s collection was donated to the museum by Ohio resident Richard A. Little, who taught at Comprehensive High School in Aiyetoro, Nigeria, from 1965 to 1967. Professor Emeritus in the Mathematics Department at Baldwin Wallace University, Little is the generous donor of this collection of Nigeria Magazine as well.

A black and white image of a Nigerian woman sitting on a chair weaving a cloth.
Scarf-like cloth with tassels on either end. There are red stripes and blue stripes with geometric patterns between the stripes.
Figure 4. Top: Female weaver in Akwete, in Nigeria Magazine, September 1962, p. 39; Bottom: Akwete head wrapper, c. 1960s. Nigeria, Igbo-style weaver. Cotton: plain weave with supplementary weft floats; 223.5 x 81.3 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Donated by Richard Little from his experience at Comprehensive High School, Aiyetoro, Nigeria, 1965–67, 2022.22

Every issue of Nigeria Magazine also had a special Literary Supplement where writers, poets, playwrights, and critics published new work and reviews. The March 1966 issue featured, by popular request, short biographies of the biggest names in art and literature, including Ben Enwonwu, Chinua Achebe, and Wole Soyinka, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986 (fig. 5).

Black and white news article titled "Our Authors and Performing Artists". Image of a man with glasses in the top right corner.
Select biographies of 5 different people. There are black and white images of each person at the bottom of the page with their name above their image.
Figure 5. Select biographies from Nigeria Magazine, no. 88, March 1966, pp. 57–58

The Ingall’s Library is home to 18 issues of this incredible monthly magazine, published by the Cultural Division of Nigeria’s Ministry of Information, whose editorial offices were in the capital city of Lagos. Their goal was to promote Nigerian arts and culture; indeed, the magazine offers a fascinating glimpse into a vibrant moment of artistic and cultural conversation in the first decades following Nigeria’s independence in 1960 (fig. 6). Authors celebrate the incredible range and richness of artistic practice across the country in essays like “A New Sanctuary at Oshogbo” (June 1964; unsigned essay) and “The Mythical Realism of Bruce Onobrakpeya” by art historian Babatunde Lawal (no. 120, 1976), and they debate the big questions of postcolonial society in articles like “The Role of the Writer in a New Nation” by Chinua Achebe (no. 81, June 1964).

Black and white print ad that reads "The best way through Nigeria". There are three characters at the top: "Ofwulugwu Masquerader, A Northern Emir, and Yoruba Drummer". There is a short excerpt about the Nigerian railway below the title with a logo at the bottom that reads "Nigerian Railway Corporation" and an image of a train to the left.
Figure 6. Print ad for rail travel and new national infrastructure, in various issues of Nigeria Magazine

Equally palpable is a quiet urgency about safeguarding traditions and championing living artists. Many articles document regional culture, such as “The Traditions of Origin of the Urhobo of the Niger Delta” (September 1974) by the Rev. S.U. Erivwo, Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Ibadan, Jos campus. One essay discusses the rising market prices for Nigerian art, even in March 1966; another in the April 1969 issue calls for the establishment of national institutions to collect contemporary artists’ new works.

The essays in Nigeria Magazine also have an international angle, spotlighting performances by Nigeria’s Cultural Troupe at Montreal’s iconic International Exposition (Expo ’67) and two special shows at the Apollo Theater in Harlem — their only other North American stop (fig. 7).

Women singing and holding instruments in traditional nigerian garb.
Nigerian men dancing on a stage in traditional nigerian garb.
Two women in traditional Nigerian garb holding statues above their heads with one hand and feathers in the other hand.
Figure 7. Ogunde Concert Party performing at the Apollo Theater, in Nigeria Magazine, December 1967

There is a strong pan-African emphasis too. In 1977, a special issue was dedicated to the Second World Black & African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in Lagos, a historic event that drew artists from all over the global Black diaspora, including the US and the Caribbean (fig. 8). Indeed, the magazine was an important venue for the dissemination of global Black art and thought, publishing articles about the Harlem Renaissance and Négritude (a parallel movement in French-speaking circles in Europe and the Caribbean), as well as the work of leading figures, including author and activist W. E. B. DuBois, renowned poet and president of Senegal Léopold Senghor, politician and philosopher Aimé Césaire from the French Caribbean island of Martinique, and NAACP leader, writer, and activist James Weldon Johnson. Their inclusion in Nigeria Magazine exemplifies how these ideas and works crisscrossed the globe and hints at an international community of Black art and thought.

Nigeria magazine cover featuring a stadium and yellow grass in front of the stadium.
Figure 8. The cover of Nigeria Magazine’s FESTAC edition of 1977 showing Lagos’s National Theatre in Iganmu

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Ingalls Library has 18 issues of Nigeria Magazine — accessible to all — thanks to Richard A. Little. The library is open and free to the public; come in and browse today!