- Master of Ikerre
- Active Dates: 1900-1914
About the Artist
This door has been attributed to “The Master of Ikerre.” Though there are questions surrounding who exactly this was, we know that the artist was a Yoruba carver active in the early 20th century. The Yoruba people live in Nigeria and the Republic of Benin in Africa. Their artistic tradition is one of the oldest in Africa. It emphasizes the individual artist, allowing artists and craftsmen to use their own unique style while drawing upon conventions from the past. Sculpture is a particularly popular art form in the Yoruba culture.
What Inspired It
The Yoruba used doors like this one on important buildings such as shrines, royal buildings, or storehouses for valuable goods. While the doors were not meant to invoke a narrative, images carved into the surface can suggest historical moments. Doors were also made to enhance the prestige and status of a shrine dedicated to a Yoruba god, or orisha. There is some speculation that the images on this door reference Yoruba civil wars that raged between the 17th and 19th centuries. Another possibility suggests that the door might have been carved to adorn a temple or shrine dedicated to Olokun, the Yoruba orisha of the sea. No one is exactly sure where, or for whom the door was originally mounted.
The two pieces you see here once formed a single door panel. The DAM acquired one half of the panel in 1973. In the summer of 1979, a visitor to the museum noticed the panel and mentioned that he owned a piece that was similar. Through further correspondence it was established that his piece was the missing half. The museum was fortunate enough to acquire the second half of the door in 1980.
The door is carved in high relief, meaning that the images of human and animal figures project out from the solid surface of the wood.
The images on the door are divided into groups, forming horizontal bands. In each band, the artist used the same figure over and over, rather than carving figures that are distinct from one another.
(top row, left side) Women are the potters in Yoruba society. They make many different types of pottery for practical use, including pots for cooking, eating, and storage. Unique pots are made in honor of Yoruba deities. These women could be carrying the ritual mud pots associated with Olokun.
(top row, right side) These four birds have been described as a type of raptor—a fish eagle. Priests and priestesses carry fish eagle feathers in ceremonies of worship to Olokun.
(both sides) The soldier imagery—including soldiers with bows and arrows, men on horseback, and men with guns—might reference the wars of the 17th and 19th centuries.
(second row, right side) These figures symbolize fertility.
(next to women with babies) These items embody authority associated with Olokun, the king of the sea.
(bottom row, left side) Drummers play throughout ceremonies to Olokun, accompanying praise songs.
(bottom-most snake-like figures, right side) The mudfish is known as Olokun’s “playmate,” and is considered the best sacrifice to Olokun.
(bottom, left side) The python is also a “playmate” of Olokun. He conveys messages from Olokun to his followers, and reminds followers to make sacrifices to Olokun.
(bottom, right side, facing opposite directions) Monkeys are associated with the Yoruba "cult of twins." Here, they may reinforce Olokun’s connection with fertility and childbirth.
Quick Classroom Ideas
- Compare the object to other important doors, such as cathedrals, synagogues, mosques and museums.Have students research in groups and compare as a class.
- Compare the Yoruba Door Panels to the Tlingit House Partition with Shakes Family Crest and the Palace Façade. Discuss what each object reveals about what its culture considers important.
- Have students write a story, answering the question: “Where are these people going?”
- Have a class discussion about the many functions of a door (protection from the elements, protecting things of value, signifying the entrance to a space). Ask students how the design of a door can indicate the importance of a place. Have them imagine the things they would want to protect in a special room. Design a door for this room that shows that there are special things behind it.