What is Uli/Uri Art?

Uri (uli) motifs drawn by Igbo women from Arochukwu with the juice of the uri tree on paper (usually drawn on the body). 1932. Pitt Rivers Museum.

Uli or Uri, a traditional lgbo art form, is a dyeing technique used to adorn the body, murals, and motifs with intricate patterns. This unique art form has a rich history that dates back to the 9th century, as evidenced by the patterns found on Igbo Ukwu bronzes. Legend has it that the practice was bestowed upon women by Ala, the goddess of the land, as a divine gift of artistry.

Although most of the Uli patterns are solely for decorative purposes, some patterns painted on the walls of shrines carry sacred meanings. These designs are inspired by both natural and abstract forms, ranging from animal patterns to knotted designs. Historically, people used Uli to adorn their skin, particularly during special occasions such as weddings, and when applied, they acted as temporary tattoos that lasted up to eight days.

Uli was widely used throughout Igboland, and in some regions, patterns were influenced by Nsibidi characters. However, after the colonial period, the art form witnessed a significant decline.

Learn more about Uli by listening to our cultural podcast below.


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