The Ife heads

Last week I provided an introduction on the essay I wrote on how Africans and African Diasporas are reviving their African Identities in their creative works.  This week I will continue to elaborate more on the Ife Heads or the Heads of Ile Ife.



“Ile-Ife, also called Ife or Ife-Lodun, town, Osun state, southwestern Nigeria. The town lies at the intersection of roads from Ibadan (40 miles [64 km] west), Ilesha, and Ondo. It is one of the larger centres and probably the oldest town of the Yoruba people” (, 2017).

The lfe heads where crafted, during the 11th century, by an unknown artist of the Yoruba people, under the patronage of Ooni (king) Obalufon the Second (Africa’s Great Civilizations, 2017). According to Henry Gates Jr, while European artists, in the middle ages, were still struggle with perspective and the human form, African artist were making magnificent life-like sculptures (Africa’s Great Civilizations, 2017). Gates further elaborates that “it is not just the technical aspect that is so impressive; it is also their shear artistry, and their capacity to capture the human spirit”. There are mainly two features that distinguish the Ife heads: the accomplished mastery, and their social significance.





The Ife heads are from the African renaissance period, and until the 20th century most of the world was not aware of the existence of the Ife heads (Africa’s Great Civilizations, 2017). Leo Frobenius was with the native workers that unearthed the Ife heads in 1938 (British Museum, 2017). At first, according to Professor Suzanne Preston Blier of Harvard University, Frobenius had stated that the Ife heads could only have been made by the lost ancient Greek race of Atlantis, as published in the New York Times, but his theory was later challenged by other scholars, and it was decided that only Africans could have made the Ife heads (Africa’s Great Civilizations, 2017).  Nevertheless, Frobenius was amongst the first to agree and comment on the genius and intelligence of Africans (Miller 1990:16) in a Hegelian-  and Bergsonian tradition idolised society.



Edith Ekunke, from the National Museum of Lagos, explains that one of the most difficult craft that the Ife artists mastered was metal work. Ekunke further elaborates that the conception of Africa, that they are not that intelligent, is challenged by the genius and skilfullness of the Ife heads (Africa’s Great Civilizations, 2017). Similarly, most of the works of these graphic design creatives aim as well to challenge the notion that African Themes are not acceptable for commercial design works. Blier comments on their aesthetic appeal: “They [Ife heads] are technically amongst the most truly remarkable works of art created any place in the world. These are striking heads that are quite naturalist, but there is also this idealised naturalism, so that none of the warts and wrinkle of the face are shown… there is almost this serenity in them and give a sense of timelessness” (Africa’s Great Civilizations, 2017).

Next week I will provide reference to an African Diaspora who is using the concept of  The Ife Heads in his graphic design.

If you like the post or interested click on the like button to keep updated or you can contact me directly if you have questions. Until next time.


Africa’s Ancient Civilization (2017) video, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) 27 February, viewed: 9 April 2017. Available at: [Accessed 12 April 2017].

Encyclopædia Britannica (2017) lle Ife. [Online]
Available at: [ Accessed 12 May 2017]



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