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Published: 10 February 2018

By Andy Ross

Uli designs

Designs on paper (left) and embroidered (right)In Nigeria, the Igbo people have painted designs on their bodies and on the walls of their buildings for centuries.  

Named after the plant that the dye comes from, these designs communicate meaning and values and are used for special occasions as well as for everyday wear. The dye is not colourfast so it fades and disappears but this does not matter. The people who make these patterns are used to the temporary nature of the artwork and also believe that everyone can recall the pattern and meaning.

When Christian missionaries arrived in the country the use of these designs declined because they were closely associated with local religions, but they did not disappear entirely. Instead the designs were transferred to other uses, one of which is embroidery. In the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford is a beautiful example of an emboidered cloth using a traditional design. It is pictured above on the right alongside of a design on paper. 

If you are interested in reading more about this ornamentation have a look at the page dedicated to it on the Pitt-Rivers website. Fascinating, I am sure you will agree.