Yoruba Court Scene
DateCirca mid-late 20th century
DimensionsWork : 6 1/4 x 12 3/4 x 15 3/4 in. (15.88 x 32.38 x 40.01 cm)
Credit LineHope College Collection
LabelThe genre of thornwood carving was invented by the Yoruba artist Justus Akeredolu (1915-1983) in the late 1930s. Akeredolu used large thorns from the cottonwood tree to depict scenes of everyday Nigerian life in a way that dignified the subjects and avoided racist colonial stereotypes. His expressive figures first caught the attention of local audiences in his hometown of Owo, and later became popular with foreign expatriates and tourists as well. Other artists soon began to imitate Akeredolu, and by the 1960s, thornwood carving had become a well-established form of folk art in Nigeria.
This elaborate courtroom scene is unsigned but was most likely produced in the city of Ibadan by the George and Isaac Studio. It depicts two people arguing before a judge, who sits at a table set with three symbols of authority: a Bible, a Koran and a traditional Yoruba chief’s sword. The clerk and guards wear colonial-style uniforms, while the people in the audience are dressed in traditional Yoruba garments. The carving can be dated by the image of General Yakubu Gowan that appears on the wall above the judge. Gowan was a military officer who ruled Nigeria from 1966 to 1975 after seizing power in a coup. The carving was brought back to the United States by an American expatriate family in the mid to late 1960s, so the carving must date to around that time.