Although not all of the seven artists represented here are Igbo, to varying degrees they all have appropriated the traditional Igbo designs called uli. More than 10 million Igbo live in Nigeria and belong to one of the country's three major cultures. The Igbo formerly lived primarily in village communities, but today many reside in towns and cities, including the seven artists, and are often employed in professional fields. Many of them are Christian, well educated, and bilingual in English and Igbo.

Known for its delightful aesthetic qualities, uli was once widely found throughout much of Igboland. In former days it was practiced by women who decorated each other's bodies with dark dye in preparation for village events, such as marriage, title taking, and funerals, and sometimes for market days that were particularly important to Igbo women traders. Uli designs on the body lasted about a week.

Most uli designs were named and often differed among Igbo regions. Some uli were abstract with zigzag patterns and concentric circles, while others stood for household objects, such as a stool or pot. Many represented animals, including the python or lizard. Others took the form of plants, such as yam leaves, or celestial bodies, the crescent moon, and stars. Still others signified cutting and other processes.

Igbo women also painted uli murals on the walls of houses and compounds. Four colors were created from natural substances: black from charcoal, reddish brown from a dye derived from the camwood tree, yellow from soil or a tree bark, and white from clay. After the British arrived in Igboland at the beginning of this century, some uli mural painters produced blue from a commercial laundry additive. The aim of uli was not to express a specific message but to beautify the female body and architecture. In Igbo life, the aesthetics of beauty is equated with morality.

The strong linear qualities of uli lack perspective yet balance positive and negative space. Uli compositions are often asymmetrical and frequently painted spontaneously. Except for uli on some shrine walls and those created in conjunction with some community rituals, these paintings generally are not considered sacred.

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