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Merging Traditional "Uli" Painting
Techniques/Symbols and Computer Graphics
By
DR. IKENNA O. AGHANYA
Chief Lecturer
Former Dean, School of Arts Design & Printing Technology
Former Director of Conferences, Short Courses & Workshops
Former Sectional Head, Graphics
Department of Fine & Applied Arts, Federal Polytechnic Oko,
Oko, Anambra State, Nigeria
Email: ikenna.aghanya@federalpolyoko.edu.ng iyke70@gmail.com
URL: www.printplusng.com www.shakysartgallery.com
2
ABSTRACT:
For many in the South Eastern part of Nigeria, Digital Art is rapidly becoming the preferred
medium to produce poster designs and digital paintings. With a mouse, appropriate software
and hardware, monitor, a scanner and a laser printer, one can control a project from start to
finish. Traditional “Uli” Body Painting techniques/symbols at the same time, are visual media,
which the writer describes as static media (i.e. it can only show snapshots), but it can be
enhanced by stylistic elements of a metalanguage to produce the visual impression of
dynamics. The viewer's imagination is asked to interpret these symbols and to change the
meaning of objects actually shown. “Uli” is an expression of the Ibo people’s capacity for
creative body design, which is firmly rooted in their myths and their experience of life in the
past, present and future. At its best, it is an expression of their synthetic present, the epic of
their search for a new order in the contemporary world. Unfortunately, the “Uli” Traditional
Body Painting technique is gradually fading away, as well as the use of the Uli symbols. The
emphasis of this paper is to identify the advantages in merging the use of Digital Arts and
“Uli” Traditional Body Painting techniques/symbols in producing social awareness themed
painting/poster designs and sculptural pieces in Nigeria, with particular reference to the Ibo
people of the South Eastern Region of Nigeria. This way, the poster/painting will not just serve
as a communicative medium but also as a work of Art (in terms of its aesthetic qualities) and
the Uli symbols can as well be preserved.
KEYWORD: Digital/Computer Art, Traditional “Uli” Painting Body Techniques/Symbols,
Painting, Poster Designing.
3
INTRODUCTION:
The art of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries can be characterized as a struggle to come
to terms with technological development, represented first by the emergence of photography,
then film and television, and finally of the computer.1
These inventions have changed the way
which artists have both approached and constructed their works. The new technologies, in
particular visual computing – have in turn looked to painting to provide a cultural framework
for its development; it has always wanted to be accepted as part of the spectrum of artistic,
rather than scientific achievement.2
This paper also acknowledges that early experiments in the
application of computing to the whole range of arts provided the impetus to develop software
to make music, write poetry and create dance, but the predominant use or computing in arts has
been the creation of visual images. For the Igbo people of the South Eastern part of Nigeria,
Uli or body painting was a relevant form of graphic communication. A woman’s skin was used
as a portable canvas upon which symbols and designs were painted that defined a woman’s
beauty. Also, these designs showed the inter-relationship between the individual and society;
while demonstrating an Uli artist’s creativity and skill. Uli symbols and patterns were also
painted on the walls of dwellings, compounds, and communal shrines. In Igboland, Uli was a
feminine art form, and the design repertoire of the artist varied from village to village as did
the compositional forms, designs, and motifs.3
The symbols used by Igbo women artists
represented things of physical importance, had aesthetic appeal, and were intended to beautify
the female body or clay/mud walls–as beauty was equated with morality in Igbo culture.
1
Chang, Rodney. “Evolving Role of the Computerized Artist” (1999)
http://www.lastplace.com/EXHIBITS/E2000Py/cartevolve.htm
2
Robin Baker, Designing the Future, Thames and Hudson, London, 2008, p.124.
3
Rowanchilde Raven. "Cross Cultural Body Decoration: A Literature Review; Willis, Liz Uli Painting and the
Igbo World View." (1993) http://bme.freeq.com/culture/970101/cc033.html,
4
This paper then presents that; Igbo artists in Nigeria as well as outside Nigeria should explore
the various advantages that exist in the use of the computer (as a production tool) and the rich
meanings that the Uli designs and patterns stand for, in producing posters/digital paintings.
Many artists in the past have explored the technique of experimenting with the use of
technology (as production tools) and traditional techniques in the production of their artworks.
A good example of this exploratory technique could be seen in the works of Solomon
Beneidiktovich Telingater, a Georgian artist born in 1903. In one of his famous artworks, titled
vytiazhka (stretching), done in 1927, Telingater made use of various traditional and
technological materials like locally produced ink, crayon, decorative paper, halftone
photographs, printed letters and printed illustrations in a single Art work. His unique
techniques made him rise from a simple Print Shop instructor to a figure of some renowned
artist. He collaborated with artists such as El Lissitzky on different art projects, exploring and
making use of various painting and photomechanical techniques.4
This paper perceives
Telingater as having experimented with the different and diverse media in producing his
artworks, because he wanted to demonstrate some advantages or possibilities that exist in the
application and merging of these various techniques.
Uli patterns and symbols relied heavily on drawing skills whose content is based largely on
Igbo culture, particularly female body, wall paintings and on Igbo tales, ceremonies, and
beliefs. The revival of interest in Uli through contemporary art had begun with Uche Okeke in
the 1960s, when Nigeria’s independence produced a growing sense of freedom from colonial
restraints on cultural tradition. It fully developed among teachers and students in the 1970s at
the University of Nigeria Nsukka and was linked to renewed interest in Igbo culture after the
4
Darra Goldestein, Deborah Rothschild and Ellen Lupton, Graphic Design in the Mechanical Age, Yale
University Press, London, 2004, p. 87
5
destructive Biafran War.5
Traditional Uli motifs, now rarely painted on human bodies or walls, have a strong linear, often
curvilinear quality. The art makes use of contrasts between positive and negative space, its
images at times appearing as sky constellations. Uli’s lyrical qualities express harmony and
brevity. It is an art style that has often been created in freedom and spontaneity. Uli motifs
generally refer to images of everyday Igbo life, farm and cooking tools, pots, plants, birds,
animals, the sun, the moon, and the kola nut, though some are pure design. For ceremonial
occasions and important events, skilled Igbo female artists painted Uli to add beauty to the
human body and the walls of buildings and compounds. Uli has made her way in modern social
settings; on sculptural surfaces and on paper, board, and canvas, framed and hung on walls in
homes, institutions, and galleries of the world.
LITERATURE REVIEW:
Since works of modern artists is almost exhaustibly varied – in terms of vision, concept, style,
form, content, materials and tools – this paper may seem at first to be unnecessarily limited.6
But, on a closer examination, this paper tends to prove a fruitful way of examining the changes
that have characterized the art of this century, by identifying the advantages in the exploration
of digital art designs and traditional Uli painting techniques in the production of
posters/paintings and also by identifying the materials and procedures involved in this
exploratory technique.
The writer perceives the term “technique” as going beyond mechanical and manual processes.
It is a useful standpoint from which to view artists’ overall intentions. This is not just because
5
Krydz Ikwuemesi, The Rediscovery of Tradition: Uli and the Politics of Culture, Fouth Dimension Publishers,
Enugu, p.16
6
David Chandler, Judith Collins and John Wellhman, Techniques of Modern Artists, New Burlington Books,
London, 1997, p.8
6
choice of materials and working methods reveal crucial attitudes but has more to do with the
way in which modern artists have redefined not only the object of their creativity, but also the
process by which it is produced. Indeed, an important contribution of artists in this century has
been to emphasize the critical mental aspect of technique, as opposed to the merely physical
application of paint, for example, to a support.
For some painters, choice of materials goes beyond a desire to experiment with different
media. Macel Duchamp (1887-1968) having achieved fame and success as a painter, virtually
gave up conventional painting in 1913 at the age of 26, the same year his “Nude Descending a
Staircase” (1912) took New York by storm at the Armory Show. For Duschamp, the idea of the
artist as a sort of magician was much more important than the artist as a mere painter.7
Although Duchamp began as a Cubist and was claimed by both the Dadaists and the
Surrealists, he developed concepts that were beyond the confines of any movement. He created
a philosophical domain of his own which questioned “every assumption ever made about the
function of art.” He felt that technology had formed modern consciousness. More in keeping
with the spirit of the machine age than with painting, Duchamp experimented with new
manufactured materials and with the iconography of the machine itself. By abandoning
traditional painting techniques so abruptly after so much success, both as a conventional and as
an avant-garde painter, this writer considers that Duchamp demonstrated the need for artists
(especially Ibos) to sought for other advantageous avenues or possibilities of producing their
artworks.
Uli patterns and motifs are simplified or abstracted forms taken from nature or functional items
used in everyday life. Designs are effortlessly created through the use of rhythmic
7
Chandler et. al., ibid.
7
curved lines; the exact placement of a dot; or the directness of a mark. Identical or stylistically
similar designs are painted on the walls of dwellings, compound and communal shrines where
motifs are generally larger in size.8
In this paper, the writer would attempt to provide a
comprehensive over view of Uli symbols, and how it represents the synthesis of Igbo culture.
In addition, the writer would explore the metamorphosis of merging these symbols and
computer-generated designs, into one Art structure.
Recently, various artists have criticized the art object, including easel painting, on the ground
that it is a “bourgeois” form. They have social and political objections to the way paintings
have been used for purposes unintended by the artist; in other words as investments or
speculations.9
Sol LeWitt, a key figure in both the Minimal Art and Conceptual Art movement,
neatly sidesteps such problems by producing temporary wall drawing. A small design on paper
by LeWitt is magnified onto a wall. It can be viewed by people near and far, any transport
costs are reduced to postage. Like Duschamp, LeWitt has more or less delegated “technique.”
Digital Art (the use of the computer as an art tool) is increasingly becoming a part of everyday
life. At this point in the early twenty-first century, we are witnesses to the myriad ways in
which this machine (the computer) is altering our lives, as it invades our homes and work
places. The human responses to this intrusion have been at opposite extremes. Some have seen
computer technology as a dehumanizing threat ready to supplant human skills and knowledge
in every area that it encroaches. Others have seen it as liberator, freeing people from drudgery
and allowing them to concentrate on the more creative aspects of their work.
The writer believes that the merging of Uli traditional symbols/motifs and digital art designs in
the production of posters/paintings would force the artist to consider afresh what we think
8
Sandra A. Smith, Uli: Metamorphosis of a Tradition into Contemporary Aesthetics, A Master of Arts Thesis
submitted to the College of Arts, Kent State University, May 2010, page7
9
Chandler et. al; ibid.
8
about technology. The paper recognizes that one cannot keep it (computer) in a separate
compartment, divorced from the rest of our lives. The attempt to restrict technology to
mundane tasks unconnected with our imaginative existence, to reinforce the separation of the
technological and the creative, no longer works in the era of the computer. If we try to draw a
boundary around our creative endeavor and say that it has nothing to do with technology, the
only result is that we are forced to redraw the boundary again and again.
The writer obtained his first degree in Graphic/Advertising Designs from the University of
Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria in the early 1990’s. Then the computer wasn’t really
associated with Arts. We were forced to manually produce all our designs, including our
typefaces, for our advertisement and publicity designs. The writer personally mastered those
traditional art techniques, taught in school, because he had no other option. Fortunately, the
writer was offered a Scholarship in 1999 to pursue a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Computer
Graphics at the prestigious College of Fine Arts, University of the Philippines, Diliman
Campus. There, he was exposed to the use and application of modern equipments (computers)
and materials in producing art works.
Having studied art production the traditional way (manual production) in his first degree, the
writer decided to explore ways on how to retain traditional art techniques and fuse them with
Digital techniques. As part of my Master of Fine Arts (MFA) thesis solo Art Exhibition, the
writer exhibited twelve social-commentary paintings/posters, at the International Center
Lobby, University of the Philippines, in June 2000. The interesting aspect of these artworks
was that, the writer merged traditional painting techniques and computer-generated images in
producing these artworks. The Art exhibition was a huge success and it made him realize that
he can actually explore this synergy and take it to a new level of art work production
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Growing up as a little boy in the early 1970’s at Amawbia, Awka South L.G.A of Anambra
State, the writer was fascinated by the various Uli symbols/motifs that were painted on his
grandmother’s arms. The lines, curves, semi-curves, zigzag symbols, were all painted in details
and formed beautiful and interesting motifs. As he grew older and left to attain formal
education outside my home-town, the writer saw less of the Uli motifs, but the designs were
already embedded in his sub-conscious, forever.
For the past two years, He has been researching (still researching) on fusing Uli symbols and
Digital Arts into one art structure. He has come-up with a couple of proto-types, which he is
still working on. As an artist, the writer has always been motivated to retain his Igbo artistic
heritage, which definitely revolves around Uli symbols and Igbo Religious Beliefs/Practices.
The twentieth century marked an energetic period of aesthetic change for the art of Uli. While
numerous traditional art practices remained familiar and unaltered in Igboland, particularly the
making of facial masks, wood sculpture, pottery, and textile arts, Uli body art became
obsolescent and passé. However, the conscious efforts of contemporary Nigerian artists like
Uche Okeke, inventively transformed the outmoded art form to comply with twentieth century
standards. Several factors contributed to the transition. First, in the context of Nigeria obtaining
its independence in 1960, there was not only a sense of political freedom but also a renewed
interest in traditional art practices such as Uli.10
Secondly, artists rediscovered the cultural and
thematic importance of ethnology. Additionally, this renewed interest in Uli recognized the
inventiveness and skill of the traditional Igbo woman as “an artist.”
Traditional Igbo women used their bodies and those of other women as a medium for their
creative talent. Uli turned the body into a living sculpture and object of beauty. Plus, it showed
10
Smith, Uli: Metamorphosis of a Tradition into Contemporary Aesthetics, A Master of Arts Thesis submitted to
the College of Arts, Kent State University, page 16
10
a woman’s social rank within her village/community. Young girls and women learned the art
of body painting by observing their mothers, grandmothers, or other women in the
village/community in which they lived. Once a woman was proficient at Uli, her skill was
employed in social situations such as title taking, marriages, seasonal celebrations, and
memorial services for the dead; even if the designs themselves rarely reflected the situation or
occasion.
However, the imposition of Western and European values on Igbo cultural practices suppressed
the art form. Missionaries and Western religious groups insisted that women not cover their
bodies with black designs, but rather with cloth. They viewed Uli as primitive and
inappropriate. This led to a period of decline in Uli practice, and the art form soon became
antiquated. Therefore, transition was necessary for Uli to sustain its historical importance
within Igbo culture, and this was visualized by a new generation of artists interested in
traditional Igbo art and the importance of ethnology.
Uli, Uri, and Urie are dialect variations in the Igbo language that describe either body or
wall/mural painting in a local village setting. However, in Igboland the art of applying Uli to
the body is not referred to as painting, since brushes are not used. Instead the phrase “ide uli”
(to write uli) or “ise uli” (to draw uli) is more appropriate, but for consistency the art form will
be cited as Uli painting throughout this paper. Elizabeth Willis in her book, Uli Painting and
Identity: Twentieth-century Developments in Art in the Igbo Speaking Region of Nigeria,
describes Uli as, “the name given to a variety of trees and shrubs which bear seed pods that
produce a colorless dye used by women artists as a medium for painting on the body.11
The
primary source for the liquid dye is from the Rothmania hispida (“uli okorobian”) or
Rothmania whitfieldi (“uli oba or uli nkpo”), along with a variety of other small trees and
11
Elizabeth Willis, Uli Painting and Identity: Twentieth-century Developments in Art in the Igbo Speaking
Region of Nigeria, Mostrand and Reinhold, New York, 1997, p.39
11
shrubs found in most parts of the Igbo speaking regions”.12
These trees and shrubs produce
various sized seed pods which flower and bear fruits at different times, making it possible to
find pods throughout the year. Therefore, Uli is both the material and technique of painting the
body.
Once the pods were collected, women would grind them on a stone slab or hard surface,
bringing forth a fleshy pulp containing crushed seeds. The mixture of pulp and seeds was then
squeezed through cotton wool cloth producing a light yellowish liquid, which is Uli. When
fresh seed pods were not available, dried pods could be soaked in water and restored
sufficiently to provide quality dye.13
Although Uli is primarily associated with painting and
decoration, the liquid extracted from the pods is known to have medicinal qualities as well. For
example, children were painted with Uli to prevent and treat symptoms of measles, and women
often applied Uli to painful joints to ease aches and pains, or the liquid was rubbed on insect
bites to prevent infection.
Uli body painting was intended to satisfy the human need for beauty. Thus strict attention was
drawn to certain parts of the body, and their attractiveness was emphasized. Women artists
often added charcoal (“unyi”) to the liquid dye if it was very pale, allowing them to see more
clearly the marks they made on the body. The charcoal (“unyi”) was made from remnant yam
tendrils, which are the tender shoots that spill out onto dirt mounds during the rainy season.
The yam tendrils visible above ground suggest the invisible growth of the yam taking place
beneath the earth surface.14
After the yams are harvested, the tendrils left on the ground were
collected, rolled into bundles, set aside to dry, and burned to transform them into unyi
12
Willis, Uli Painting and Identity: Twentieth-century Developments in Art in the Igbo Speaking Region of
Nigeria, p.43
13
Willis, Uli Painting and Identity: Twentieth-century Developments in Art in the Igbo Speaking Region of
Nigeria, p.44
14
Smith, Uli: Metamorphosis of a Tradition into Contemporary Aesthetics, A Master of Arts Thesis submitted to
the College of Arts, Kent State University, page 22
12
(charcoal). Preparing the skin before painting it with Uli was an important part of the total
aesthetic process. An Uli artist always prepared her clients’ bodies carefully.
First, she used various razors and implements to shave off unwanted body hair prior to rubbing
the body with powdered camwood (“ufie”). “Ufie”, which is dark red/purple in color, comes
from the heartwood of a mature “abosi” or camwood tree (Baphia nitida or Baphia pubescens).
The “ufie” (camwood powder), used as a primer, made the skin cool and smooth and prevented
perspiration that could easily cause smudges as the dye was painted on the body.15
Once the skin was prepared, women effortlessly drew simple decisive lines imitating nature or
everyday functional items; while being mindful of the form and surface of the body on which
she applied designs. Interestingly, the legs and neck were frequently emphasized because
ideally they are supposed to be straight and strong so a woman can use this strength and
straightness to bring wealth to her family. Body heat caused the dye to oxidize in
approximately twelve to twenty-four hours, turning the dye a vivid blue/black color. The final
step was to rub palm oil onto the skin making it soft and luminous. Unfortunately “Uli” is
evanescent, and the motifs last only four to eight days before they begin to fade and disappear
on the skin.
Many different tools were used for drawing Uli on the body, with lines being thin, rather than
thick or bold. In the Anambra region, women used small blunt knives called “mmanwauli”
made by local blacksmiths. These knives, approximately three to five inches long had a dull
curved iron blade, and were not intended for cutting through the skin. Following the curves of
the body, an artist could easily manipulate the knife to produce tapered lines that started out
15
Willis, Uli Painting and Identity: Twentieth-century Developments in Art in the Igbo Speaking Region of
Nigeria, p.105
13
thin, then broadened in the middle, and finally tapered off.16
In other regions, women
commonly used thin slivers cut from the pith of palm fronds, feathers, stems from various
plants, or stamping devices made from plants or vegetables. For example, the Olokoro women
cut or burned patterns on the cross section of palm wine fibers to make a variety of stamps
which replicated hand-drawn designs. In the Nri-Awka area, small metal combs with between
five to ten teeth were used for tracing a series of parallel lines. Whatever the tool, it was
normally held between the thumb and first finger, and, by moving the whole wrist and arm,
instead of the hand—the artist could produce a very thin line. It was also possible to use the
blunt end of the “mmanwauli” (knife) to make small dots or markings, as well as broaden lines
or shapes. This was done simply by covering the blunt end of the knife with cotton wool,
which absorbed extra dye. In Uzuakoli, in Abia State, women often used their thumbnail or
nail of the forefinger to make patterns or to define other markings. Due to the fluidity of the
dye, accidental drips may have occasionally occurred, but an experienced artist could quickly
modify a pattern she was drawing on the body to accommodate for the drip. Therefore, the
experienced uli artist was renowned for her sensitive eye, skill, concentration, Uli on Clay/Mud
Walls.
Body Uli was a private dialogue, the essence of oneness between artist and patron, and was
color specific. In contrast, wall Uli may be perceived as a communal activity using several
colors for effect. It is a co-operative between artists who work together sharing and negotiating
through a running conversation. Yet, mural painting like body painting depends on thorough
preparation. Several colors are used when painting walls, and of course patterns are larger and
asymmetrically placed for added interest.
16
Willis, Uli Painting and Identity: Twentieth-century Developments in Art in the Igbo Speaking Region of
Nigeria, p.105
14
Sandra Smith notes, “the process of wall Uli was labor intensive and time consuming, and was
the work of many capable hands. Further, the arduous process of preparing walls was an art in
and of itself, and was an art few people in Nigeria today wish to master”.17
Uli aja or wall Uli is found on residential houses, compound and communal shrine walls. The
murals are created during the dry season; and, because artists do not add binder to their
pigments, they generally wash or wear off, returning to the earth during the subsequent rainy
season. Therefore, it is essential that the surface of a wall be properly repaired and resurfaced
before painting can begin. A clear explanation of the process written by C. Krydz Ikwuemesi in
The Rediscovery of Tradition: Uli and the Politics of Culture, focuses on the refurbishing and
painting project on the walls of the Iyi Azi Shrine in Nri. Iyi Azi is a major deity in Nri and
looked upon as both a guardian and a protector.
Many Igbo artists have become increasingly involved in producing digital artworks, most of
them were initially put off by lack of a visually mature language and the considerable
programming expertise that was required. With Digital based Art Courses now being taught in
higher institutions in the south-eastern part of Nigeria, most of these artists have attempted to
extract visual meaning from the computer. These artists have taken some time to follow the
scientific lead in the development of the electronic image. It was not until the computer was
widely affordable, that artists were able to gain access via institutions that results began to
appear. The artist was further hindered by the lack of appropriate software and of devices that
could output in color. Initially there was an intellectual climate of uncertainty about art
produced by machines. By the late 1990s, many of these obstacles had been overcome and
because of the diversity of approach in the artistic realm, the restructuring that was necessary
17
Smith, Uli: Metamorphosis of a Tradition into Contemporary Aesthetics, A Master of Arts Thesis submitted to
the College of Arts, Kent State University, page 29
15
in the design field was not required. Computer systems provided an alternative approach that
could be integrated with traditional media, or not, depending on the artist’s preference.
The rise of Digital Arts and its introduction into the production of paintings/posters is one of
the significant challenges to traditional tools like the paintbrush, pen, paper, pencil, charcoal
and uli etc. It challenges their continued use and appropriateness.18
This dilemma is causing considerable disquiet in the Art community throughout the world. In
judging the new technologies, many artists compare their performance with that of old tools.
Their expectations are that they should be at least as good as the old tools. The nature of design
task is changing. What artists do and how they do it is undergoing a significant transformation,
and it is likely that the traditional tools alone will not be able to cope with the new and
accelerating demands. Three major reasons are often given to support the need to change from
old tools to new tools, or to merge the traditional and the modern, as being discussed in this
paper:
1.) Increasing problem complexity.
2.) The search for a competitive edge; and most importantly,
3.) The development of new products.
Although these are central issues that justify the transfer from old to new, it is important to
remember that a whole host of further contributory factors also exists.
As we have seen, the domination of drawing and painting within the sphere of visual
expression had a major impact on the evolution of early computer tools; they were strongly
influenced by traditional practices and tools. The development of digital arts is still young
(when compared to the development of traditional painting tools), and in many cases when the
software was written there were no models to follow beyond what already existed in the fields
18
Pender, Knowels, Digital Color in Graphic Design, Butterworh-Neinimann, London, 2004, p.64
16
of art and design.19
The early phase of software development tended to borrow a set of past
conventions and build them into the electronic environment. A transition is becoming evident,
however, in the new generation of Digital Art tools that are being developed for use in art and
design. While they are given the name of “new” tools to distinguish them from the traditional
ones, the writer describes them as “transitional”, because they continue to lean heavily on their
historic roots for both definition and purpose.
The fact that many artists have started utilizing the use of technology (as production tools) and
traditional techniques in the production of their art works is a welcome development. They all
have different reasons or driving forces for these exploratory techniques, but the writer
perceives that these artists were all driven by on broad goal – their quest for excellence in their
art works.20
A good example of this could be seen in the works of Larry Ricers, who took up
painting in 1945, and studied with Hans Hofmann from 1947-1948. River’s works are pitched
between Pop Art, of which he is held an important precursor and Abstract Expressionism,
whose loose, improvised brush strokes he put to his own original use. In one of his famous
paintings titled Parts of the Face (1961), which represents the artist‘s wife. It has its source in a
labeled school drawing and the painting here is one of the intermittent series that varies both in
length, pose and identity of sitter, as well as the languages used for labeling (English, Italian,
Polish Persian). Technically, Rivers had worked up a partially realistic head which is
surrounded by thickly brushed swatches of color – yellow, green, white and black – which
have been allowed to run and scuff over the surface. A commercial stencil (recalling the
cubists) and drawn lines of different shapes and sizes (recalling Uli Motifs/Symbols) have been
19
Edward Gottschall. Graphic Communication ‘ 90. New Jersey: Prentice-hall Inc, 2000, p.24
20
Gottschall. Graphic Communication ‘ 90. p.24
17
used to itemize the head’s parts. The painted area also extends around the sides of the
stretchers, a technique made famous by the American artist, Jackson Pollock.
Alexander Rodchenko, Johaness Badder, Raoul Housman, Theo Van Doesburg, Pablo Picasso,
Martial Raysee, just to mention a few artists, all produced paintings as striking instances of
how modern artists working in the ambitious decades between the two World Wars aimed to
emphasize and transform the conditions of reproduction. They sometimes buried evidence of
one technique (Computer Technology) in order to objectify another (traditional techniques).
Mass manufacturers in the nineteenth century had proven that industrial production could
replicate (to an extent) the work of traditional artisans; some artists sought instead to express
the techniques of production in the form of the object. By exploring the use of computer
technology and traditional techniques in the production of their artworks, these artists sought to
expose technology and loosen its constraints, viewing the processes of manufacture meaning
and aesthetic character.
METHODOLOGY:
Though the creative output of this exploratory study was limited to the use of digital art
designs and painting of Uli symbols with acrylic paint on artist canvas materials, various other
experimental works were also carried out.
The writer first explored the use of computer-generated images and tried to infuse the Uli
symbols with oil paint on flex material. During this particular experimental study, the writer
discovered that even though oil-based ink is used in printing on flex material, the glossy nature
of the material made it virtually impossible to apply oil paint on. The oil paint kept sliding
down the glossy surface of the flex material.
Based on the findings derived from the experiments, the writer decided to use a fast-drying
paint (acrylic) to infuse the Uli symbols on the artist canvas that was digitally produced. The
18
fast-drying nature of acrylic paint made it suitable to apply on the surface of the artist canvas
material
In the eight social commentary posters/paintings produced, the artist limited his technique to
the use of written texts, visual texts and the Uli symbols. Just like the paintings of American
painter Larry Rivers, the paintings produced by the artist are pitched between Pop Art and
Realism. Technically, the artist developed and designed images with the aid of the computer,
which were then printed on artist canvas, using the large-format Epson Printer, and then, some
areas of the printed artist canvas material were then rendered by including some Uli symbols,
using acrylic paint.
The various elements of poster designs (headlines, sub-headlines and taglines) were integrated
in these paintings to elaborate more clearly the messages encoded within the visual texts.
According to Bobbi Balderman “images does not illustrate written text, it is the written text
which amplifies the connotative potential of the images.” Rather than amplify a set
connotations already given in the images produced, the written text produces (invents) an
entirely new signifier which is retroactively projected into the image, so as to appear denoted
there.21
CONCLUSION:
This paper recognizes the dynamic relationship that one can never exhaust exploring its various
possibilities, while exploring the use of the computer (as an art tool) and traditional painting
techniques, in producing posters/paintings.
The creative output (Social Commentary Posters/Paintings in Nigeria, with particular reference
to the Igbo land), went a long way in identifying some advantages, like the creation of lively
interplay of textures and tones. It also identified the materials and procedures involved in the
21
Balderman Bobbi. Buying Creative Service. Lllinois: NTC Bussiness Books, 2005. p.17
19
exploratory technique. The theme of the posters/paintings produced is centered on social
problems in Nigeria, with particular reference to the Igbo land. By fusing the various Uli
symbols in these arts works, this paper also tends to create more awareness on making sure that
these Uli symbols are integrated into modern artworks produced by contemporary Igbo artists.
These Uli symbols helped to shape the Igbo culture and it shouldn’t be left to fade away.
The artist is also convinced that these artworks would go a long way in creating awareness to
the Nigerian public on the various social issues that abound in Nigeria and the need for all
Nigerians to come together as one family and work towards a better nation.
This paper strongly encourages the notion that artists should be exploratory in their quest for
excellence in their artwork productions. It acknowledges the fact that artists can build their
worlds according to their own conventions, by laying out the germ and watching what evolves
from it.
20
LIST OF FIGURES
Fig 1.
Some Uli Motifs and Symbols
21
Fig. 2
A young Igbo being decorated with Uli symbols
22
Fig. 3
The feet of an Igbo woman decorated
23
Fig. 4
Drawing showing Uli designs on an arm and wrist
24
Fig. 5
Sketches of Uli Designs on the neck, face and arm of a woman
25
Fig. 6
Uli symbols used as decoration on a mud wall/fence of a building
26
Fig. 7
Uli motifs used on a tie/dye cloth material
27
Fig. 8
“Fisher Bird” 1985 – Linocut print by Obiora Udechukwu, using Uli motifs
28
Fig. 9
“Punishment” 1962 – Pen & Ink on paper by Uche Okeke, using Uli motifs.
29
Fig. 10
“Exodus” 1977 – Ink Drawing on Paper by Chike Aniakor, using Uli motifs
30
Fig. 12
Election Poster using Uli symbols and motifs (Aghanya Ikenna, 2011)
31
Fig. 13
Photographic Print, incorporating Uli symbols and motifs (Aghanya Ikenna, 2011)
Wooden Mask on textile, incorporating Uli symbols and motifs (Aghanya Ikenna, 2012)
32
Fig. 13
Wooden Mask on textile, incorporating Uli symbols and motifs (Aghanya Ikenna, 2012)
Wooden Mask on textile, incorporating Uli symbols and motifs (Aghanya Ikenna, 2012)
33
References:
Abiodun Onadipe. African Media and Conflict. Lagos: New Wave Publishers, 2004.
Balderman, Bobbi. Buying Creative Service. Lllinois: NTC Bussiness Books, 2005.
Bairncoat, John. Posters: a Concise History. London: Oxford University Press, 172.
Baker, Robin. Designing the Further: The Computer Transformation of Reality. London:
Thames and Hudson 2008.
Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London:
Fontana, 2005,
Berry, Susan and Martin, Judy. Designing with Clolor. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1992
Bird, William L. Design for Victory : World War ll Posters on America Home Front. New
York: Princeton Architectural 1998.
Colguhoun, Norman. Painting A Creative Approach: A Guide to Materials and Methods.
New York: Watson Publishers, 1992.
Doghudje, Chris A. Adworld ’92-Special Nigerian Advertising Industry Review. Lagos
ZUZ Bureau Publications, 1992.
Edward, Gottschall. Graphic Communication ‘ 80. New Jersey: Prentice-hall Inc, 2000
Feldman, Edmund B. Practical Art Criticism. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc, 1994.
Foster, Joseph K. The Posters of Picasso. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 2007
Franke, Herbert K. The Latest Development in Media Art. Paper presented at the Department
of Computer Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
March, 1999.
Goldestein, Darra; Lupton, Ellen; and Rothschild, Deborah. Graphic Design in the Mechanical
Age. London: Yale University Press, 2004
34
Hirch Carl, S. Printing from a Stone- The Story of Lithography. New York: The Viking Press,
1962
Hillier, Bevis. One Hundred years of Posters. New York: Harper and Row, 1972
Hutchison, Harold Fredrick. The Poster: An Illustrated History from 1860. London:
Studio Vista, 1968.
Ikwuemesi, Krydz The Rediscovery of Tradition: Uli and the Politics of Culture, Fourth
Dimension Publishers, Enugu,
Lovejoy, Margot. Post Modern Currents: Art and Artists in the Age of Electronic Media.
Simon Schuster, 2007.
Mcquiston, LIZ. Graphic Agitation: Social and Political Graphics since the Sixtie
London: Phaidon, 1993
Metzl, Eruine. The Poster – Its History and its Art. New York: Watson – Guptill
Publication, 1963
Odedra, Mayuri. Information Technology in Sub – Saharan Africa. Paper presented at
Rhodes University, Grahmstown, South Africa. June 2006.
Pender, K. Digital Color in Graphic Design. Oxford: Butterworh-Neinimann: 2004.
Read, Herbert E. The Grassroots of Art: Lectures on Social Aspects of Art in an
Industrial Age. Cleveland: World Publications, 1961
Richard, Wendy. Design and Technology Erasing the Boundaries. New York: Mostrand and
Reinhold, 1990
Smith, Sandra. Uli: Metamorphosis of a Tradition into Contemporary Aesthetics, A Master of
Arts Thesis submitted to the College of Arts, Kent State University, May 2010,
Squibb, Sharon, Studio Techniques: For Advertising and Graphic Designers. New York:
Wastson-Guptill Publications, 2004.
35
Storey, John An Introduction to Theory of Popular Culture. Herfordshire: Prentice Hall, 1997.
Srinati, Dominic. An Inroduction to Theories of Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 1996.
Walderman, Januuszczak. Techniques of the World’s Great Painters. New Jersey: Chantwell
Books, 1980.
Yu, Chong J. “Computer Generated Music Composition.” Master of Engineering Thesis,
Department of Engineering and Computer Science,Mssachusetts Institute of Technology. May
1996.
ONLINE REFERENCES
All-Original-Art.com (2002) “Rodney Chang” http://www.all-original-art.com/artist-
profile.asp?artist_id=230
Campbell, Jim. “Homepage” 2004, <http://www.jimcampbell.tv> (19 November 2011).
HCAS (2001) “Rodney Chang” http://www.lastplace.com/rcstat.htm
Hosfelt Gallery (2002): http://www.hosfeltgallery.com/Exhibits/2002/Campbell.html
Mayfield, Kendra (2004): “Engineers Just Wanna Make Art”
http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0%2C1284%2C62714%2C00.html
O'Brien, John (2003) “Jim Campbell”
http://artscenecal.com/ArticlesFile/Archive/Articles1997/Articles0697/JCampbell.html
Chang, Rodney (1999) “Evolving Role of the Computerized Artist”
http://www.lastplace.com/EXHIBITS/E2000Py/cartevolve.htm
36
The Commonwealth Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
(2002): “Report of the Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Inquiry”
http://www.dcita.gov.au/Article/0%2C%2C0_1-2_15-4_111225%2C00.html
The Digital Artist.com (2002) “Dr. Rodney Chang (Pygoya)”
http://www.thedigitalartist.com/artist.phtml?uid=rchang
National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian. n.d. (Accessed 6 July 2001) "The Sylvia H.
Williams Gallery – The Poetics of Line: Seven Artists of the Nsukka Group, Nigeria; The
Nsukka Group." http://www.nmafa.si.edu/exhibits/group.htm

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Merging Traditional "Uli" Painting Techniques/Symbols and Computer Graphics

  • 1. 1 Merging Traditional "Uli" Painting Techniques/Symbols and Computer Graphics By DR. IKENNA O. AGHANYA Chief Lecturer Former Dean, School of Arts Design & Printing Technology Former Director of Conferences, Short Courses & Workshops Former Sectional Head, Graphics Department of Fine & Applied Arts, Federal Polytechnic Oko, Oko, Anambra State, Nigeria Email: ikenna.aghanya@federalpolyoko.edu.ng iyke70@gmail.com URL: www.printplusng.com www.shakysartgallery.com
  • 2. 2 ABSTRACT: For many in the South Eastern part of Nigeria, Digital Art is rapidly becoming the preferred medium to produce poster designs and digital paintings. With a mouse, appropriate software and hardware, monitor, a scanner and a laser printer, one can control a project from start to finish. Traditional “Uli” Body Painting techniques/symbols at the same time, are visual media, which the writer describes as static media (i.e. it can only show snapshots), but it can be enhanced by stylistic elements of a metalanguage to produce the visual impression of dynamics. The viewer's imagination is asked to interpret these symbols and to change the meaning of objects actually shown. “Uli” is an expression of the Ibo people’s capacity for creative body design, which is firmly rooted in their myths and their experience of life in the past, present and future. At its best, it is an expression of their synthetic present, the epic of their search for a new order in the contemporary world. Unfortunately, the “Uli” Traditional Body Painting technique is gradually fading away, as well as the use of the Uli symbols. The emphasis of this paper is to identify the advantages in merging the use of Digital Arts and “Uli” Traditional Body Painting techniques/symbols in producing social awareness themed painting/poster designs and sculptural pieces in Nigeria, with particular reference to the Ibo people of the South Eastern Region of Nigeria. This way, the poster/painting will not just serve as a communicative medium but also as a work of Art (in terms of its aesthetic qualities) and the Uli symbols can as well be preserved. KEYWORD: Digital/Computer Art, Traditional “Uli” Painting Body Techniques/Symbols, Painting, Poster Designing.
  • 3. 3 INTRODUCTION: The art of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries can be characterized as a struggle to come to terms with technological development, represented first by the emergence of photography, then film and television, and finally of the computer.1 These inventions have changed the way which artists have both approached and constructed their works. The new technologies, in particular visual computing – have in turn looked to painting to provide a cultural framework for its development; it has always wanted to be accepted as part of the spectrum of artistic, rather than scientific achievement.2 This paper also acknowledges that early experiments in the application of computing to the whole range of arts provided the impetus to develop software to make music, write poetry and create dance, but the predominant use or computing in arts has been the creation of visual images. For the Igbo people of the South Eastern part of Nigeria, Uli or body painting was a relevant form of graphic communication. A woman’s skin was used as a portable canvas upon which symbols and designs were painted that defined a woman’s beauty. Also, these designs showed the inter-relationship between the individual and society; while demonstrating an Uli artist’s creativity and skill. Uli symbols and patterns were also painted on the walls of dwellings, compounds, and communal shrines. In Igboland, Uli was a feminine art form, and the design repertoire of the artist varied from village to village as did the compositional forms, designs, and motifs.3 The symbols used by Igbo women artists represented things of physical importance, had aesthetic appeal, and were intended to beautify the female body or clay/mud walls–as beauty was equated with morality in Igbo culture. 1 Chang, Rodney. “Evolving Role of the Computerized Artist” (1999) http://www.lastplace.com/EXHIBITS/E2000Py/cartevolve.htm 2 Robin Baker, Designing the Future, Thames and Hudson, London, 2008, p.124. 3 Rowanchilde Raven. "Cross Cultural Body Decoration: A Literature Review; Willis, Liz Uli Painting and the Igbo World View." (1993) http://bme.freeq.com/culture/970101/cc033.html,
  • 4. 4 This paper then presents that; Igbo artists in Nigeria as well as outside Nigeria should explore the various advantages that exist in the use of the computer (as a production tool) and the rich meanings that the Uli designs and patterns stand for, in producing posters/digital paintings. Many artists in the past have explored the technique of experimenting with the use of technology (as production tools) and traditional techniques in the production of their artworks. A good example of this exploratory technique could be seen in the works of Solomon Beneidiktovich Telingater, a Georgian artist born in 1903. In one of his famous artworks, titled vytiazhka (stretching), done in 1927, Telingater made use of various traditional and technological materials like locally produced ink, crayon, decorative paper, halftone photographs, printed letters and printed illustrations in a single Art work. His unique techniques made him rise from a simple Print Shop instructor to a figure of some renowned artist. He collaborated with artists such as El Lissitzky on different art projects, exploring and making use of various painting and photomechanical techniques.4 This paper perceives Telingater as having experimented with the different and diverse media in producing his artworks, because he wanted to demonstrate some advantages or possibilities that exist in the application and merging of these various techniques. Uli patterns and symbols relied heavily on drawing skills whose content is based largely on Igbo culture, particularly female body, wall paintings and on Igbo tales, ceremonies, and beliefs. The revival of interest in Uli through contemporary art had begun with Uche Okeke in the 1960s, when Nigeria’s independence produced a growing sense of freedom from colonial restraints on cultural tradition. It fully developed among teachers and students in the 1970s at the University of Nigeria Nsukka and was linked to renewed interest in Igbo culture after the 4 Darra Goldestein, Deborah Rothschild and Ellen Lupton, Graphic Design in the Mechanical Age, Yale University Press, London, 2004, p. 87
  • 5. 5 destructive Biafran War.5 Traditional Uli motifs, now rarely painted on human bodies or walls, have a strong linear, often curvilinear quality. The art makes use of contrasts between positive and negative space, its images at times appearing as sky constellations. Uli’s lyrical qualities express harmony and brevity. It is an art style that has often been created in freedom and spontaneity. Uli motifs generally refer to images of everyday Igbo life, farm and cooking tools, pots, plants, birds, animals, the sun, the moon, and the kola nut, though some are pure design. For ceremonial occasions and important events, skilled Igbo female artists painted Uli to add beauty to the human body and the walls of buildings and compounds. Uli has made her way in modern social settings; on sculptural surfaces and on paper, board, and canvas, framed and hung on walls in homes, institutions, and galleries of the world. LITERATURE REVIEW: Since works of modern artists is almost exhaustibly varied – in terms of vision, concept, style, form, content, materials and tools – this paper may seem at first to be unnecessarily limited.6 But, on a closer examination, this paper tends to prove a fruitful way of examining the changes that have characterized the art of this century, by identifying the advantages in the exploration of digital art designs and traditional Uli painting techniques in the production of posters/paintings and also by identifying the materials and procedures involved in this exploratory technique. The writer perceives the term “technique” as going beyond mechanical and manual processes. It is a useful standpoint from which to view artists’ overall intentions. This is not just because 5 Krydz Ikwuemesi, The Rediscovery of Tradition: Uli and the Politics of Culture, Fouth Dimension Publishers, Enugu, p.16 6 David Chandler, Judith Collins and John Wellhman, Techniques of Modern Artists, New Burlington Books, London, 1997, p.8
  • 6. 6 choice of materials and working methods reveal crucial attitudes but has more to do with the way in which modern artists have redefined not only the object of their creativity, but also the process by which it is produced. Indeed, an important contribution of artists in this century has been to emphasize the critical mental aspect of technique, as opposed to the merely physical application of paint, for example, to a support. For some painters, choice of materials goes beyond a desire to experiment with different media. Macel Duchamp (1887-1968) having achieved fame and success as a painter, virtually gave up conventional painting in 1913 at the age of 26, the same year his “Nude Descending a Staircase” (1912) took New York by storm at the Armory Show. For Duschamp, the idea of the artist as a sort of magician was much more important than the artist as a mere painter.7 Although Duchamp began as a Cubist and was claimed by both the Dadaists and the Surrealists, he developed concepts that were beyond the confines of any movement. He created a philosophical domain of his own which questioned “every assumption ever made about the function of art.” He felt that technology had formed modern consciousness. More in keeping with the spirit of the machine age than with painting, Duchamp experimented with new manufactured materials and with the iconography of the machine itself. By abandoning traditional painting techniques so abruptly after so much success, both as a conventional and as an avant-garde painter, this writer considers that Duchamp demonstrated the need for artists (especially Ibos) to sought for other advantageous avenues or possibilities of producing their artworks. Uli patterns and motifs are simplified or abstracted forms taken from nature or functional items used in everyday life. Designs are effortlessly created through the use of rhythmic 7 Chandler et. al., ibid.
  • 7. 7 curved lines; the exact placement of a dot; or the directness of a mark. Identical or stylistically similar designs are painted on the walls of dwellings, compound and communal shrines where motifs are generally larger in size.8 In this paper, the writer would attempt to provide a comprehensive over view of Uli symbols, and how it represents the synthesis of Igbo culture. In addition, the writer would explore the metamorphosis of merging these symbols and computer-generated designs, into one Art structure. Recently, various artists have criticized the art object, including easel painting, on the ground that it is a “bourgeois” form. They have social and political objections to the way paintings have been used for purposes unintended by the artist; in other words as investments or speculations.9 Sol LeWitt, a key figure in both the Minimal Art and Conceptual Art movement, neatly sidesteps such problems by producing temporary wall drawing. A small design on paper by LeWitt is magnified onto a wall. It can be viewed by people near and far, any transport costs are reduced to postage. Like Duschamp, LeWitt has more or less delegated “technique.” Digital Art (the use of the computer as an art tool) is increasingly becoming a part of everyday life. At this point in the early twenty-first century, we are witnesses to the myriad ways in which this machine (the computer) is altering our lives, as it invades our homes and work places. The human responses to this intrusion have been at opposite extremes. Some have seen computer technology as a dehumanizing threat ready to supplant human skills and knowledge in every area that it encroaches. Others have seen it as liberator, freeing people from drudgery and allowing them to concentrate on the more creative aspects of their work. The writer believes that the merging of Uli traditional symbols/motifs and digital art designs in the production of posters/paintings would force the artist to consider afresh what we think 8 Sandra A. Smith, Uli: Metamorphosis of a Tradition into Contemporary Aesthetics, A Master of Arts Thesis submitted to the College of Arts, Kent State University, May 2010, page7 9 Chandler et. al; ibid.
  • 8. 8 about technology. The paper recognizes that one cannot keep it (computer) in a separate compartment, divorced from the rest of our lives. The attempt to restrict technology to mundane tasks unconnected with our imaginative existence, to reinforce the separation of the technological and the creative, no longer works in the era of the computer. If we try to draw a boundary around our creative endeavor and say that it has nothing to do with technology, the only result is that we are forced to redraw the boundary again and again. The writer obtained his first degree in Graphic/Advertising Designs from the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria in the early 1990’s. Then the computer wasn’t really associated with Arts. We were forced to manually produce all our designs, including our typefaces, for our advertisement and publicity designs. The writer personally mastered those traditional art techniques, taught in school, because he had no other option. Fortunately, the writer was offered a Scholarship in 1999 to pursue a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Computer Graphics at the prestigious College of Fine Arts, University of the Philippines, Diliman Campus. There, he was exposed to the use and application of modern equipments (computers) and materials in producing art works. Having studied art production the traditional way (manual production) in his first degree, the writer decided to explore ways on how to retain traditional art techniques and fuse them with Digital techniques. As part of my Master of Fine Arts (MFA) thesis solo Art Exhibition, the writer exhibited twelve social-commentary paintings/posters, at the International Center Lobby, University of the Philippines, in June 2000. The interesting aspect of these artworks was that, the writer merged traditional painting techniques and computer-generated images in producing these artworks. The Art exhibition was a huge success and it made him realize that he can actually explore this synergy and take it to a new level of art work production
  • 9. 9 Growing up as a little boy in the early 1970’s at Amawbia, Awka South L.G.A of Anambra State, the writer was fascinated by the various Uli symbols/motifs that were painted on his grandmother’s arms. The lines, curves, semi-curves, zigzag symbols, were all painted in details and formed beautiful and interesting motifs. As he grew older and left to attain formal education outside my home-town, the writer saw less of the Uli motifs, but the designs were already embedded in his sub-conscious, forever. For the past two years, He has been researching (still researching) on fusing Uli symbols and Digital Arts into one art structure. He has come-up with a couple of proto-types, which he is still working on. As an artist, the writer has always been motivated to retain his Igbo artistic heritage, which definitely revolves around Uli symbols and Igbo Religious Beliefs/Practices. The twentieth century marked an energetic period of aesthetic change for the art of Uli. While numerous traditional art practices remained familiar and unaltered in Igboland, particularly the making of facial masks, wood sculpture, pottery, and textile arts, Uli body art became obsolescent and passé. However, the conscious efforts of contemporary Nigerian artists like Uche Okeke, inventively transformed the outmoded art form to comply with twentieth century standards. Several factors contributed to the transition. First, in the context of Nigeria obtaining its independence in 1960, there was not only a sense of political freedom but also a renewed interest in traditional art practices such as Uli.10 Secondly, artists rediscovered the cultural and thematic importance of ethnology. Additionally, this renewed interest in Uli recognized the inventiveness and skill of the traditional Igbo woman as “an artist.” Traditional Igbo women used their bodies and those of other women as a medium for their creative talent. Uli turned the body into a living sculpture and object of beauty. Plus, it showed 10 Smith, Uli: Metamorphosis of a Tradition into Contemporary Aesthetics, A Master of Arts Thesis submitted to the College of Arts, Kent State University, page 16
  • 10. 10 a woman’s social rank within her village/community. Young girls and women learned the art of body painting by observing their mothers, grandmothers, or other women in the village/community in which they lived. Once a woman was proficient at Uli, her skill was employed in social situations such as title taking, marriages, seasonal celebrations, and memorial services for the dead; even if the designs themselves rarely reflected the situation or occasion. However, the imposition of Western and European values on Igbo cultural practices suppressed the art form. Missionaries and Western religious groups insisted that women not cover their bodies with black designs, but rather with cloth. They viewed Uli as primitive and inappropriate. This led to a period of decline in Uli practice, and the art form soon became antiquated. Therefore, transition was necessary for Uli to sustain its historical importance within Igbo culture, and this was visualized by a new generation of artists interested in traditional Igbo art and the importance of ethnology. Uli, Uri, and Urie are dialect variations in the Igbo language that describe either body or wall/mural painting in a local village setting. However, in Igboland the art of applying Uli to the body is not referred to as painting, since brushes are not used. Instead the phrase “ide uli” (to write uli) or “ise uli” (to draw uli) is more appropriate, but for consistency the art form will be cited as Uli painting throughout this paper. Elizabeth Willis in her book, Uli Painting and Identity: Twentieth-century Developments in Art in the Igbo Speaking Region of Nigeria, describes Uli as, “the name given to a variety of trees and shrubs which bear seed pods that produce a colorless dye used by women artists as a medium for painting on the body.11 The primary source for the liquid dye is from the Rothmania hispida (“uli okorobian”) or Rothmania whitfieldi (“uli oba or uli nkpo”), along with a variety of other small trees and 11 Elizabeth Willis, Uli Painting and Identity: Twentieth-century Developments in Art in the Igbo Speaking Region of Nigeria, Mostrand and Reinhold, New York, 1997, p.39
  • 11. 11 shrubs found in most parts of the Igbo speaking regions”.12 These trees and shrubs produce various sized seed pods which flower and bear fruits at different times, making it possible to find pods throughout the year. Therefore, Uli is both the material and technique of painting the body. Once the pods were collected, women would grind them on a stone slab or hard surface, bringing forth a fleshy pulp containing crushed seeds. The mixture of pulp and seeds was then squeezed through cotton wool cloth producing a light yellowish liquid, which is Uli. When fresh seed pods were not available, dried pods could be soaked in water and restored sufficiently to provide quality dye.13 Although Uli is primarily associated with painting and decoration, the liquid extracted from the pods is known to have medicinal qualities as well. For example, children were painted with Uli to prevent and treat symptoms of measles, and women often applied Uli to painful joints to ease aches and pains, or the liquid was rubbed on insect bites to prevent infection. Uli body painting was intended to satisfy the human need for beauty. Thus strict attention was drawn to certain parts of the body, and their attractiveness was emphasized. Women artists often added charcoal (“unyi”) to the liquid dye if it was very pale, allowing them to see more clearly the marks they made on the body. The charcoal (“unyi”) was made from remnant yam tendrils, which are the tender shoots that spill out onto dirt mounds during the rainy season. The yam tendrils visible above ground suggest the invisible growth of the yam taking place beneath the earth surface.14 After the yams are harvested, the tendrils left on the ground were collected, rolled into bundles, set aside to dry, and burned to transform them into unyi 12 Willis, Uli Painting and Identity: Twentieth-century Developments in Art in the Igbo Speaking Region of Nigeria, p.43 13 Willis, Uli Painting and Identity: Twentieth-century Developments in Art in the Igbo Speaking Region of Nigeria, p.44 14 Smith, Uli: Metamorphosis of a Tradition into Contemporary Aesthetics, A Master of Arts Thesis submitted to the College of Arts, Kent State University, page 22
  • 12. 12 (charcoal). Preparing the skin before painting it with Uli was an important part of the total aesthetic process. An Uli artist always prepared her clients’ bodies carefully. First, she used various razors and implements to shave off unwanted body hair prior to rubbing the body with powdered camwood (“ufie”). “Ufie”, which is dark red/purple in color, comes from the heartwood of a mature “abosi” or camwood tree (Baphia nitida or Baphia pubescens). The “ufie” (camwood powder), used as a primer, made the skin cool and smooth and prevented perspiration that could easily cause smudges as the dye was painted on the body.15 Once the skin was prepared, women effortlessly drew simple decisive lines imitating nature or everyday functional items; while being mindful of the form and surface of the body on which she applied designs. Interestingly, the legs and neck were frequently emphasized because ideally they are supposed to be straight and strong so a woman can use this strength and straightness to bring wealth to her family. Body heat caused the dye to oxidize in approximately twelve to twenty-four hours, turning the dye a vivid blue/black color. The final step was to rub palm oil onto the skin making it soft and luminous. Unfortunately “Uli” is evanescent, and the motifs last only four to eight days before they begin to fade and disappear on the skin. Many different tools were used for drawing Uli on the body, with lines being thin, rather than thick or bold. In the Anambra region, women used small blunt knives called “mmanwauli” made by local blacksmiths. These knives, approximately three to five inches long had a dull curved iron blade, and were not intended for cutting through the skin. Following the curves of the body, an artist could easily manipulate the knife to produce tapered lines that started out 15 Willis, Uli Painting and Identity: Twentieth-century Developments in Art in the Igbo Speaking Region of Nigeria, p.105
  • 13. 13 thin, then broadened in the middle, and finally tapered off.16 In other regions, women commonly used thin slivers cut from the pith of palm fronds, feathers, stems from various plants, or stamping devices made from plants or vegetables. For example, the Olokoro women cut or burned patterns on the cross section of palm wine fibers to make a variety of stamps which replicated hand-drawn designs. In the Nri-Awka area, small metal combs with between five to ten teeth were used for tracing a series of parallel lines. Whatever the tool, it was normally held between the thumb and first finger, and, by moving the whole wrist and arm, instead of the hand—the artist could produce a very thin line. It was also possible to use the blunt end of the “mmanwauli” (knife) to make small dots or markings, as well as broaden lines or shapes. This was done simply by covering the blunt end of the knife with cotton wool, which absorbed extra dye. In Uzuakoli, in Abia State, women often used their thumbnail or nail of the forefinger to make patterns or to define other markings. Due to the fluidity of the dye, accidental drips may have occasionally occurred, but an experienced artist could quickly modify a pattern she was drawing on the body to accommodate for the drip. Therefore, the experienced uli artist was renowned for her sensitive eye, skill, concentration, Uli on Clay/Mud Walls. Body Uli was a private dialogue, the essence of oneness between artist and patron, and was color specific. In contrast, wall Uli may be perceived as a communal activity using several colors for effect. It is a co-operative between artists who work together sharing and negotiating through a running conversation. Yet, mural painting like body painting depends on thorough preparation. Several colors are used when painting walls, and of course patterns are larger and asymmetrically placed for added interest. 16 Willis, Uli Painting and Identity: Twentieth-century Developments in Art in the Igbo Speaking Region of Nigeria, p.105
  • 14. 14 Sandra Smith notes, “the process of wall Uli was labor intensive and time consuming, and was the work of many capable hands. Further, the arduous process of preparing walls was an art in and of itself, and was an art few people in Nigeria today wish to master”.17 Uli aja or wall Uli is found on residential houses, compound and communal shrine walls. The murals are created during the dry season; and, because artists do not add binder to their pigments, they generally wash or wear off, returning to the earth during the subsequent rainy season. Therefore, it is essential that the surface of a wall be properly repaired and resurfaced before painting can begin. A clear explanation of the process written by C. Krydz Ikwuemesi in The Rediscovery of Tradition: Uli and the Politics of Culture, focuses on the refurbishing and painting project on the walls of the Iyi Azi Shrine in Nri. Iyi Azi is a major deity in Nri and looked upon as both a guardian and a protector. Many Igbo artists have become increasingly involved in producing digital artworks, most of them were initially put off by lack of a visually mature language and the considerable programming expertise that was required. With Digital based Art Courses now being taught in higher institutions in the south-eastern part of Nigeria, most of these artists have attempted to extract visual meaning from the computer. These artists have taken some time to follow the scientific lead in the development of the electronic image. It was not until the computer was widely affordable, that artists were able to gain access via institutions that results began to appear. The artist was further hindered by the lack of appropriate software and of devices that could output in color. Initially there was an intellectual climate of uncertainty about art produced by machines. By the late 1990s, many of these obstacles had been overcome and because of the diversity of approach in the artistic realm, the restructuring that was necessary 17 Smith, Uli: Metamorphosis of a Tradition into Contemporary Aesthetics, A Master of Arts Thesis submitted to the College of Arts, Kent State University, page 29
  • 15. 15 in the design field was not required. Computer systems provided an alternative approach that could be integrated with traditional media, or not, depending on the artist’s preference. The rise of Digital Arts and its introduction into the production of paintings/posters is one of the significant challenges to traditional tools like the paintbrush, pen, paper, pencil, charcoal and uli etc. It challenges their continued use and appropriateness.18 This dilemma is causing considerable disquiet in the Art community throughout the world. In judging the new technologies, many artists compare their performance with that of old tools. Their expectations are that they should be at least as good as the old tools. The nature of design task is changing. What artists do and how they do it is undergoing a significant transformation, and it is likely that the traditional tools alone will not be able to cope with the new and accelerating demands. Three major reasons are often given to support the need to change from old tools to new tools, or to merge the traditional and the modern, as being discussed in this paper: 1.) Increasing problem complexity. 2.) The search for a competitive edge; and most importantly, 3.) The development of new products. Although these are central issues that justify the transfer from old to new, it is important to remember that a whole host of further contributory factors also exists. As we have seen, the domination of drawing and painting within the sphere of visual expression had a major impact on the evolution of early computer tools; they were strongly influenced by traditional practices and tools. The development of digital arts is still young (when compared to the development of traditional painting tools), and in many cases when the software was written there were no models to follow beyond what already existed in the fields 18 Pender, Knowels, Digital Color in Graphic Design, Butterworh-Neinimann, London, 2004, p.64
  • 16. 16 of art and design.19 The early phase of software development tended to borrow a set of past conventions and build them into the electronic environment. A transition is becoming evident, however, in the new generation of Digital Art tools that are being developed for use in art and design. While they are given the name of “new” tools to distinguish them from the traditional ones, the writer describes them as “transitional”, because they continue to lean heavily on their historic roots for both definition and purpose. The fact that many artists have started utilizing the use of technology (as production tools) and traditional techniques in the production of their art works is a welcome development. They all have different reasons or driving forces for these exploratory techniques, but the writer perceives that these artists were all driven by on broad goal – their quest for excellence in their art works.20 A good example of this could be seen in the works of Larry Ricers, who took up painting in 1945, and studied with Hans Hofmann from 1947-1948. River’s works are pitched between Pop Art, of which he is held an important precursor and Abstract Expressionism, whose loose, improvised brush strokes he put to his own original use. In one of his famous paintings titled Parts of the Face (1961), which represents the artist‘s wife. It has its source in a labeled school drawing and the painting here is one of the intermittent series that varies both in length, pose and identity of sitter, as well as the languages used for labeling (English, Italian, Polish Persian). Technically, Rivers had worked up a partially realistic head which is surrounded by thickly brushed swatches of color – yellow, green, white and black – which have been allowed to run and scuff over the surface. A commercial stencil (recalling the cubists) and drawn lines of different shapes and sizes (recalling Uli Motifs/Symbols) have been 19 Edward Gottschall. Graphic Communication ‘ 90. New Jersey: Prentice-hall Inc, 2000, p.24 20 Gottschall. Graphic Communication ‘ 90. p.24
  • 17. 17 used to itemize the head’s parts. The painted area also extends around the sides of the stretchers, a technique made famous by the American artist, Jackson Pollock. Alexander Rodchenko, Johaness Badder, Raoul Housman, Theo Van Doesburg, Pablo Picasso, Martial Raysee, just to mention a few artists, all produced paintings as striking instances of how modern artists working in the ambitious decades between the two World Wars aimed to emphasize and transform the conditions of reproduction. They sometimes buried evidence of one technique (Computer Technology) in order to objectify another (traditional techniques). Mass manufacturers in the nineteenth century had proven that industrial production could replicate (to an extent) the work of traditional artisans; some artists sought instead to express the techniques of production in the form of the object. By exploring the use of computer technology and traditional techniques in the production of their artworks, these artists sought to expose technology and loosen its constraints, viewing the processes of manufacture meaning and aesthetic character. METHODOLOGY: Though the creative output of this exploratory study was limited to the use of digital art designs and painting of Uli symbols with acrylic paint on artist canvas materials, various other experimental works were also carried out. The writer first explored the use of computer-generated images and tried to infuse the Uli symbols with oil paint on flex material. During this particular experimental study, the writer discovered that even though oil-based ink is used in printing on flex material, the glossy nature of the material made it virtually impossible to apply oil paint on. The oil paint kept sliding down the glossy surface of the flex material. Based on the findings derived from the experiments, the writer decided to use a fast-drying paint (acrylic) to infuse the Uli symbols on the artist canvas that was digitally produced. The
  • 18. 18 fast-drying nature of acrylic paint made it suitable to apply on the surface of the artist canvas material In the eight social commentary posters/paintings produced, the artist limited his technique to the use of written texts, visual texts and the Uli symbols. Just like the paintings of American painter Larry Rivers, the paintings produced by the artist are pitched between Pop Art and Realism. Technically, the artist developed and designed images with the aid of the computer, which were then printed on artist canvas, using the large-format Epson Printer, and then, some areas of the printed artist canvas material were then rendered by including some Uli symbols, using acrylic paint. The various elements of poster designs (headlines, sub-headlines and taglines) were integrated in these paintings to elaborate more clearly the messages encoded within the visual texts. According to Bobbi Balderman “images does not illustrate written text, it is the written text which amplifies the connotative potential of the images.” Rather than amplify a set connotations already given in the images produced, the written text produces (invents) an entirely new signifier which is retroactively projected into the image, so as to appear denoted there.21 CONCLUSION: This paper recognizes the dynamic relationship that one can never exhaust exploring its various possibilities, while exploring the use of the computer (as an art tool) and traditional painting techniques, in producing posters/paintings. The creative output (Social Commentary Posters/Paintings in Nigeria, with particular reference to the Igbo land), went a long way in identifying some advantages, like the creation of lively interplay of textures and tones. It also identified the materials and procedures involved in the 21 Balderman Bobbi. Buying Creative Service. Lllinois: NTC Bussiness Books, 2005. p.17
  • 19. 19 exploratory technique. The theme of the posters/paintings produced is centered on social problems in Nigeria, with particular reference to the Igbo land. By fusing the various Uli symbols in these arts works, this paper also tends to create more awareness on making sure that these Uli symbols are integrated into modern artworks produced by contemporary Igbo artists. These Uli symbols helped to shape the Igbo culture and it shouldn’t be left to fade away. The artist is also convinced that these artworks would go a long way in creating awareness to the Nigerian public on the various social issues that abound in Nigeria and the need for all Nigerians to come together as one family and work towards a better nation. This paper strongly encourages the notion that artists should be exploratory in their quest for excellence in their artwork productions. It acknowledges the fact that artists can build their worlds according to their own conventions, by laying out the germ and watching what evolves from it.
  • 20. 20 LIST OF FIGURES Fig 1. Some Uli Motifs and Symbols
  • 21. 21 Fig. 2 A young Igbo being decorated with Uli symbols
  • 22. 22 Fig. 3 The feet of an Igbo woman decorated
  • 23. 23 Fig. 4 Drawing showing Uli designs on an arm and wrist
  • 24. 24 Fig. 5 Sketches of Uli Designs on the neck, face and arm of a woman
  • 25. 25 Fig. 6 Uli symbols used as decoration on a mud wall/fence of a building
  • 26. 26 Fig. 7 Uli motifs used on a tie/dye cloth material
  • 27. 27 Fig. 8 “Fisher Bird” 1985 – Linocut print by Obiora Udechukwu, using Uli motifs
  • 28. 28 Fig. 9 “Punishment” 1962 – Pen & Ink on paper by Uche Okeke, using Uli motifs.
  • 29. 29 Fig. 10 “Exodus” 1977 – Ink Drawing on Paper by Chike Aniakor, using Uli motifs
  • 30. 30 Fig. 12 Election Poster using Uli symbols and motifs (Aghanya Ikenna, 2011)
  • 31. 31 Fig. 13 Photographic Print, incorporating Uli symbols and motifs (Aghanya Ikenna, 2011) Wooden Mask on textile, incorporating Uli symbols and motifs (Aghanya Ikenna, 2012)
  • 32. 32 Fig. 13 Wooden Mask on textile, incorporating Uli symbols and motifs (Aghanya Ikenna, 2012) Wooden Mask on textile, incorporating Uli symbols and motifs (Aghanya Ikenna, 2012)
  • 33. 33 References: Abiodun Onadipe. African Media and Conflict. Lagos: New Wave Publishers, 2004. Balderman, Bobbi. Buying Creative Service. Lllinois: NTC Bussiness Books, 2005. Bairncoat, John. Posters: a Concise History. London: Oxford University Press, 172. Baker, Robin. Designing the Further: The Computer Transformation of Reality. London: Thames and Hudson 2008. Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Fontana, 2005, Berry, Susan and Martin, Judy. Designing with Clolor. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1992 Bird, William L. Design for Victory : World War ll Posters on America Home Front. New York: Princeton Architectural 1998. Colguhoun, Norman. Painting A Creative Approach: A Guide to Materials and Methods. New York: Watson Publishers, 1992. Doghudje, Chris A. Adworld ’92-Special Nigerian Advertising Industry Review. Lagos ZUZ Bureau Publications, 1992. Edward, Gottschall. Graphic Communication ‘ 80. New Jersey: Prentice-hall Inc, 2000 Feldman, Edmund B. Practical Art Criticism. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc, 1994. Foster, Joseph K. The Posters of Picasso. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 2007 Franke, Herbert K. The Latest Development in Media Art. Paper presented at the Department of Computer Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. March, 1999. Goldestein, Darra; Lupton, Ellen; and Rothschild, Deborah. Graphic Design in the Mechanical Age. London: Yale University Press, 2004
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  • 35. 35 Storey, John An Introduction to Theory of Popular Culture. Herfordshire: Prentice Hall, 1997. Srinati, Dominic. An Inroduction to Theories of Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 1996. Walderman, Januuszczak. Techniques of the World’s Great Painters. New Jersey: Chantwell Books, 1980. Yu, Chong J. “Computer Generated Music Composition.” Master of Engineering Thesis, Department of Engineering and Computer Science,Mssachusetts Institute of Technology. May 1996. ONLINE REFERENCES All-Original-Art.com (2002) “Rodney Chang” http://www.all-original-art.com/artist- profile.asp?artist_id=230 Campbell, Jim. “Homepage” 2004, <http://www.jimcampbell.tv> (19 November 2011). HCAS (2001) “Rodney Chang” http://www.lastplace.com/rcstat.htm Hosfelt Gallery (2002): http://www.hosfeltgallery.com/Exhibits/2002/Campbell.html Mayfield, Kendra (2004): “Engineers Just Wanna Make Art” http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0%2C1284%2C62714%2C00.html O'Brien, John (2003) “Jim Campbell” http://artscenecal.com/ArticlesFile/Archive/Articles1997/Articles0697/JCampbell.html Chang, Rodney (1999) “Evolving Role of the Computerized Artist” http://www.lastplace.com/EXHIBITS/E2000Py/cartevolve.htm
  • 36. 36 The Commonwealth Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (2002): “Report of the Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Inquiry” http://www.dcita.gov.au/Article/0%2C%2C0_1-2_15-4_111225%2C00.html The Digital Artist.com (2002) “Dr. Rodney Chang (Pygoya)” http://www.thedigitalartist.com/artist.phtml?uid=rchang National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian. n.d. (Accessed 6 July 2001) "The Sylvia H. Williams Gallery – The Poetics of Line: Seven Artists of the Nsukka Group, Nigeria; The Nsukka Group." http://www.nmafa.si.edu/exhibits/group.htm