Idah – A Bini Artist

During the ‘Punitive Expedition’ and great fire of 1897, Benin City was looted and destroyed. Few houses survived and several thousand cherished bronzes were carried away by the British.
Sadly, years after the looting, valuable antiquities were still being sold to dealers all over the world.
The few that still remain can give you an idea of the splendor that was old Benin.

The fame of Benin rests largely on its traditional culture and one of the most popular aspects of this culture is Benin carvings and brass work.

Today, there has been a decline in the numbers of traditional artists in this discipline but of those that remain, some of them still keep to tradition and an association of brass workers and wood carvers still exists, though members are few.

It is believed that the decline in traditional carvers started in the early part of last century, the constant stream and demand by foreign visitors influenced the diversion from unique pieces to more commercial works to satisfy the tourist market.
Many talented artists found their way out of the tradition all together and embraced and formally learned western techniques like Colette Omogbai and Bruce Onobrakpeya.

An exception to this influence was O. Idah. Read More


Queen Mother of Esigie, the ruler of Benin Kingdom in the early 1500s.  
Esigie created the political title Iyoba to include her in his administration . Idia has been described as a valiant warrior. She is credited with Esigie’s successful conquest of the neighbouring Igala Kingdom. Her son built her a palace outside Benin and gave her territory over which to rule. In Bini oral tradition, Idia has several praise names,  such as “Idia ne ekonorhue” meaning “Idia, the womb of Orohue”
This Ivory carving of her face was adopted in 1977 as the emblem of the World Bank and African Festival of Arts and Culture
FOUR COPIES of the carving were taken from the private residence of Oba Ovoranmwen in 1897 by the British military force that invaded the capital of the Empire, Edo (now Benin City in Nigeria) during the “punitive expedition” and memories of the humiliation that the King suffered at the hands of the British (he was deposed and banished to Calabar) still evokes bitterness.
The carving is still the centrepiece of the African exhibition at the British Museum which attracts thousands of visitors each year. 
One of the other three copies of the carving is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, another is in a private collection in California and the fourth is in the hands of an anonymous British collector.
When the Nigerian military government at the time (headed by Olusegun Obasanjo), made a formal request for the carving’s return . The British government bluntly refused, their reason….. The head of the conservation department at the Museum was of the opinion that “because of the condition of the object, it was unsafe to travel. The surface of the mask was cracked and it was thought that a sudden change in environment, from a cold climate to a suddenly hot one could worsen its state.” 


In 1977 the Federal Government of Nigeria commissioned the production of the replica of the Queen Idia mask. It was used as the emblem for The Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ’77) and has since become the most recognizable African art. But the man that carved the mask, Mr Joseph Alufa Igbinovia claims he is yet to be paid for his services.

This is a truly heartbreaking video but must be seen.

Please watch this video and share
Thank you Omoregbe Erediauwa of the Benin Royal Foundation for Arts and Culture for giving him a voice!