Yoruba Female Figure by Thomas Ona

Small wooden images of colonial European figures by Thomas Ona can be found in the collections of the Fowler Museum at UCLA, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, and the University of Glasgow.

Yoruba Figure

Tribe: Yoruba

Origin: Lagos, Nigeria

Approx Age: 1920s

Materials: Wood

Dimensions cm: 22 tall

Ref. Number: 1873


A beautiful Yoruba figure carved by Thomas Ona, (Thomas Onajeje Odulate). A female figure carrying a baby on her back in a sash, carved with such refinement and attention to detail as all Thomas Ona figures. The left arm has been broken and refixed at some point in its life, a really gorgeous piece of art.

Provenance: Ex-Sam Handbury Madin, UK.



Thomas Ona Odulate, also known as Thomas Ona, was a noted Yoruba wood carver, active in the early to mid-20th century. He worked at Ijebu Ode, and later in Lagos, mainly producing representations of Europeans that often had a satirical edge.

While Ona’s figures are pioneering in subject matter, they are traditional in style. They follow usual Yoruba proportions, with a large head equal in size to the torso and legs. Ona used the traditional Yoruba carving tools of adze and knife. He painted the figures in red and black ink, and white shoe polish, leaving the natural tan of the wood. However, unlike traditional Yoruba sculpture, which is usually carved out of a single piece of wood, many of Ona’s carvings have separate parts, such as hats, guns, books, mallets, or umbrellas. And like most tourist arts, Ona’s sculpture often exists in multiple, similar versions. While they seem to be satirical or caricatures and have been so identified, Ona told Bascom that his works simply showed how he viewed the world around him.

Source:– Nigeria: a quarterly magazine of general interest, June 1938, 14, p.138

Thomas Ona (1938). Photo source is unknown to me so any additional information is very welcome.

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