Female imagery in the arts of the Cross River region

The objectives of this study are to investigate female imagery in the arts of the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria, and to interpret the manner in which female fertility, as well as related aspects of womanhood, are represented in the works produced by male and female artists. This is accomplished by a multidisciplinary methodology, with data from art history, anthropology and mythology, and the examination of a total sample of over two hundred art works created by Efik, Ibibio and Ejagham artists of both sexes. The identification, analysis and comparison of the visual motifs revealed in the various art forms provided several conclusions. Both men and women encode female procreative capabilities in their respective art forms, but in totally different imagery. The male artist captures the literal likeness of woman in carefully detailed wooden masks and figures. Typically, the female image is characterized as youthful and desirable. Feminine portrayals are idealized by the use of visual elements which signify fecundity, abundance and beneficence. In contrast, the artistic production of women includes pottery, culturally regarded as utilitarian, or works that are ephemeral and noncollectible in nature, such as wall painting and the body arts. (See more in text.)